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area handbook series 

El Salvador 

a country study 



El Salvador 

a country study 

Federal Research Division 
Library of Congress 
Edited by 
Richard A. Haggerty 
Research Completed 
November 1988 

On the cover: Vendors and customers at a produce market 

Second Edition, 1990; First Printing, 1990. 

Copyright ®1990 United States Government as represented by 
the Secretary of the Army. All rights reserved. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

El Salvador: A Country Study. 

Area handbook series, DA Pam 550-150 
Research completed November 1988. 
Bibliography: pp. 269-83. 
Includes index. 

1. El Salvador I. Haggerty, Richard A., 1954- . II. Library of 
Congress. Federal Research Division. III. Area handbook for El 
Salvador. IV. Series. V. Series: DA Pam : 550-150. 

F1483.B55 1990 

972.84— dc20 — dc20 89-48948 


Headquarters, Department of the Army 
DA Pam 550-150 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 


This volume is one in a continuing series of books now being 
prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Con- 
gress under the Country Studies — Area Handbook Program. The 
last page of this book lists the other published studies. 

Most books in the series deal with a particular foreign country, 
describing and analyzing its political, economic, social, and national 
security systems and institutions, and examining the interrelation- 
ships of those systems and the ways they are shaped by cultural 
factors. Each study is written by a multidisciplinary team of social 
scientists. The authors seek to provide a basic understanding of 
the observed society, striving for a dynamic rather than a static 
portrayal. Particular attention is devoted to the people who make 
up the society, their origins, dominant beliefs and values, their com- 
mon interests and the issues on which they are divided, the nature 
and extent of their involvement with national institutions, and their 
attitudes toward each other and toward their social system and 
political order. 

The books represent the analysis of the authors and should not 
be construed as an expression of an official United States govern- 
ment position, policy, or decision. The authors have sought to 
adhere to accepted standards of scholarly objectivity. Corrections, 
additions, and suggestions for changes from readers will be wel- 
comed for use in future editions. 

Louis R. Mortimer 
Acting Chief 

Federal Research Division 
Library of Congress 
Washington, D.C. 20540 



The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Howard I. 
Blutstein, Elinor C. Betters, John Cobb, Jr., Jonathan A. Leonard, 
and Charles M. Townsend, who wrote the 1970 edition of El 
Salvador: A Country Study. Their work lent perspective to several chap- 
ters of the present volume. The authors also are grateful to individ- 
uals in various agencies of the United States government and 
international and private institutions who gave of their time, 
research materials, and special knowledge to provide information 
and perspective. 

The authors also wish to thank those who contributed directly 
to the preparation of the manuscript. These include Richard F. 
Nyrop, who reviewed all drafts and served as liaison with the spon- 
soring agency; Sandra W. Meditz, who reviewed drafts and provid- 
ed valuable advice on all aspects of production; Dennis M. 
Hanratty, who contributed useful and substantive comments on 
several chapter drafts; Martha E. Hopkins, Patricia Mollela, Ruth 
Nieland, and Michael Pleasants, who edited portions of the 
manuscript; Marilyn Majeska, who also edited portions of the 
manuscript and managed production; Barbara Edgerton, Janie L. 
Gilchrist, and Izella Watson, who did the word processing; Andrea 
T. Merrill, who performed the final prepublication editorial review; 
Shirley Kessel, who compiled the index; and Malinda B. Neale 
of the Printing and Processing Section, Library of Congress, who 
prepared the camera-ready copy under the supervision of Peggy 

David P. Cabitto, Sandra K. Ferrell, and Kimberly A. Lord 
provided invaluable graphics support. David P. Cabitto also 
designed the cover and illustrations for the title page of each chap- 
ter. Susan M. Lender reviewed the map drafts, which were pre- 
pared by Harriett R. Blood, David P. Cabitto, and Kimberly A. 
Lord. Various individuals, libraries, and public agencies provided 

Finally, the authors would like to thank several individuals who 
provided research support. Arvies J. Staton supplied information 
on ranks and insignia, and Timothy L. Merrill wrote the geogra- 
phy section in Chapter 2. 




Foreword iii 

Acknowledgments v 

Preface , . xi 

Country Profile xiii 

Introduction xix 

Chapter 1. Historical Setting 1 

Richard A. Haggerty 





The Oligarchy and the Liberal State 9 

Economic Crisis and Repression , 14 


RULE 16 



The 1969 War with Honduras , 24 

Dashed Hopes: The 1972 Elections 26 






Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment .... 47 

Mary W. Helms 


Geology 49 

Physical Features 50 

Climate 51 


Demographic Trends 54 

Population Growth and Age Distribution 56 


The Upper Sector 60 


The Lower Sector 62 

The Middle Sector 64 

Indians 66 


Standard of Living 67 

Health and Welfare 69 

Education 73 



Urbanization 77 

Quality of Life 79 


Agrarian Reform 85 

Revolutionary Groups 88 

The Role of Religion 91 

Chapter 3. The Economy 99 

Donald E. Jacobson and David B. Ehrenthal 


Income Distribution 105 

Sectors of the Economy 105 

The Labor Force 108 


Monetary and Credit Policies 110 

Allocation of Government Expenditures 115 


The Land Tenure System 118 

Major Crops and Commodities 120 


Manufacturing 126 

Other Leading Industries 128 


Transportation 130 

Communications 131 

Energy 131 


Balance of Payments and the External Sector 133 

Trade and Trade Policy 134 

Direct Foreign Investment and External Debt 137 

Chapter 4. Government and Politics 141 

Richard A. Haggerty 



The Constitutions of El Salvador, 1824-1962 144 

The Constitution of 1983 145 


The Executive 152 

The Legislature 153 

The Judiciary 155 

The Military 156 

Local Government 158 


Electoral Procedures 159 

The Electoral Process 162 

Political Parties 163 

Interest Groups 173 

Mass Communications 180 


Relations with the United States 182 

The Crisis in Central America 186 

Relations with Other Nations 192 

Chapter 5. National Security 195 

Rex A. Hudson 



The Oligarchy's Private Army, 1824-1931 199 

The Military in Power, 1931-84 200 

The Military under Democratic Rule, 1984-88 204 


Mission and Organization 208 

Defense Budget 209 

Military Service 209 

Ranks, Uniforms, and Insignia 212 

Capabilities 213 

Civic Action 217 



Military Schools 218 

Officer Corps Dynamics 219 

Military Justice 220 




Historical Background 227 

Mission and Organization 229 




Right-Wing Extremism 234 

Left-Wing Extremism 236 


The Criminal Justice System 250 

Penal and Procedural Codes 256 

The Penal System 258 

Appendix. Tables 261 

Bibliography 269 

Glossary 285 

Index 289 

List of Figures 

1 Administrative Divisions of El Salvador, 1988 xviii 

2 Middle America, 1988 8 

3 Topography and Drainage 52 

4 Estimated Population Distribution by Age and Sex, 1985 . . 58 

5 Estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by Sector, 

1986 106 

6 Employment by Sector, 1987 108 

7 Transportation System, 1988 132 

8 Organization of the Government, 1988 154 

9 Armed Forces Chain of Command, 1988 210 

10 Officer Ranks and Insignia, 1988 214 

11 Enlisted Ranks and Insignia, 1988 215 



Like its predecessor, this study is an attempt to treat in a com- 
pact and objective manner the dominant social, political, economic, 
and military aspects of contemporary El Salvador. Sources of in- 
formation included scholarly books, journals, and monographs; offi- 
cial reports of governments and international organizations; 
numerous periodicals; and interviews with individuals having spe- 
cial competence in Salvadoran and Latin American affairs. Chap- 
ter bibliographies appear at the end of the book; brief comments 
on sources recommended for further reading appear at the end of 
each chapter. Measurements are given in the metric system; a con- 
version table is provided to assist readers unfamiliar with metric 
measurements (see table 1, Appendix). A glossary is also included. 

Although there are numerous variations, Spanish surnames 
generally consist of two parts: the patrilineal name followed by the 
matrilineal. In the instance of Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes, for 
example, Duarte is his father's name and Fuentes his mother's 
maiden name. In nonformal use, the matrilineal name is often 
dropped. Thus, after the first mention, just Duarte is used. A 
minority of individuals use only the patrilineal name. El Salvador 
also abounds in political and other organizational acronyms. Where 
discrepancies existed, the form most frequently employed in the 
country itself has been used. 


Country Profile 


Formal Name: Republic of El Salvador. 
Short Form: El Salvador. 
Term for Citizens: Salvadoran(s). 
Capital: San Salvador. 


Size: Approximately 21,041 square kilometers. 

Topography: Two parallel mountain ranges running east to west 
divide country into two regions: mountains and central plateau, 
and coastal plains (Pacific lowlands). Southern mountain range 
made up of more than twenty volcanoes. Eruptions rare, but 


earthquakes frequent because of location at conjunction of three 
geologic plates. Rio Lempa only navigable river. Numerous vol- 
canic lakes in interior highlands. 

Climate: Tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons; 
rainy season (winter) from May to October, dry season (summer) 
from November through April. Temperatures vary with elevation 
and show little seasonal change. Pacific lowlands uniformly hot; 
central plateau and mountain areas more moderate. 


Population: Population estimated at 5.4 million in 1988. Rate of 
annual growth estimated at 2.4 percent in 1980s. 

Language: Spanish official language and spoken by virtually all 
Salvadorans. Some traces of Indian languages, but no segment of 
population linguistically distinct. 

Ethnic Groups: In late 1980s, about 89 percent of population mes- 
tizo (Spanish and Indian), 10 percent Indian, and 1 percent un- 
mixed Caucasian. 

Education and Literacy: Approximately 69 percent of popula- 
tion ten years or older considered literate in early 1980s. Higher 
rate of literacy in urban than in rural areas. Public education sys- 
tem included one year of preschool, nine years of basic education, 
and three years secondary education. Major universities National 
University of El Salvador and Jesuit-run Central American Univer- 
sity Jose Simeon Canas. 

Health: Serious malnutrition, particularly among young children. 
Malaria, enteritis, and pneumonia most serious diseases. Medical 
attention to general population inadequate, especially in rural areas. 

Religion: Overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, although Protestant 
missionary groups, especially evangelicals, active and continued 
to make significant number of converts. 


Gross Domestic Product (GDP): Approximately US$4.6 billion 
in 1986, or US$938 per capita. Growth extremely modest from 
1983 through 1986, averaging about 1.5 percent annually. 

Agriculture: Accounted for about 24 percent of GDP in 1986. 
Production of export commodities predominated. Coffee major 
crop, accounting for half of export earnings in 1987. Sugar and 


cotton other major exports. Agriculture adversely affected during 
1980s by insurgent conflict, uneven implementation of agrarian 
reform, and inconsistent government policies. 

Industry: Accounted for over 20 percent of GDP in 1986, with 
manufacturing accounting for most sectoral activity (17.4 percent 
of GDP). Also included construction (3.1 percent of GDP) and some 
mining (0.1 percent of GDP). Manufacturing concentrated in food 
processing, tobacco products, textiles, and clothing. Output declined 
seriously during 1980s as result of guerrilla sabotage (mainly attacks 
on electrical grid), capital flight, and labor unrest. 

Services: Almost 50 percent of GDP in 1986. Services tended to 
follow prevailing trends in economy as a whole. Included trans- 
portation, commerce, insurance, health care, utilities, and other 
public services. 

Currency: Colon, consisting of 100 centavos. Unified exchange 
rate of c5 to US$1 established in November 1986. 

Imports: Approximately US$975 million in 1987. Raw materials 
accounted for over 50 percent of imports, followed by consumer 
goods (24 percent) and capital goods (23 percent). 

Exports: Approximately US$591 million in 1987, representing 
decline of over 21 percent compared with 1986 figures, mostly be- 
cause of drop in coffee prices. Agricultural commodities (coffee, 
sugar, and cotton) made up bulk of exports. 

Balance of Payments: Overall positive balance maintained dur- 
ing late 1980s despite significant trade deficit. Major compensat- 
ing factors large inflows of foreign aid — mostly from United 
States — and remittances from Salvadorans living abroad (again, 
mainly in United States). 

Fiscal Year: Calendar year. 

Fiscal Policy: Although government expenditures in mid-1980s 
remained fairly stable relative to GDP, overall budget deficit 
reached 5.4 percent of GDP in 1986. Deficit financing accomplished 
primarily through Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador, although 
public enterprises and development programs relied heavily on for- 
eign aid and international loans. 

Transportation and Communications 

Roads: Over 10,000 kilometers, of which about 1,500 paved. Major 
arteries Pan American Highway and Carretera Litoral. 


Railroads: Total system just over 600 kilometers, 380 kilometers 
of which owned by Salvador Railways, nationalized by government 
in mid-1960s. 

Ports: Two major ports — Acajutla and La Union. Minor ports at 
La Libertad and Puerto El Triunfo. 

Airports: Ilopango International Airport only airport capable of 
accommodating jet aircraft in late 1980s. Ninety-five usable air- 
fields throughout country, although only five paved. 

Telecommunications: System not highly developed despite sig- 
nificant growth during 1960s and 1970s. Internal and external sys- 
tems suffered regular and significant damage from guerrilla sabotage 
throughout 1980s. All services provided by National Telecommu- 
nications Administration (Administration Nacional de Telecomun- 
icaciones — Antel), a public enterprise. 

Government and Politics 

Government: Under 1983 Constitution, elected representative 
government divided into three branches. President, vice president, 
and Council of Ministers (cabinet) comprise executive branch. 
President directly elected for five-year term and may not be re- 
elected; also serves as constitutional commander in chief of armed 
forces. Unicameral, sixty-member Legislative Assembly consti- 
tutes legislative branch. Judicial branch headed by Supreme Court 
of Justice; below Supreme Court are chambers of second instance, 
courts of first instance, and justice of the peace courts. Magistrates 
appointed by Legislative Assembly to fixed terms. Governors of 
departments (states) appointed by president; mayors and municipal 
council members directly elected. Military exerts political influence, 
particularly on issues relating to national security, but active-duty 
military personnel constitutionally prohibited from seeking office. 

Politics: Long characterized by military rule supporting dominance 
of economic elite, in late 1980s political system still adapting to 
demands for free elections, representative democracy, and more 
open public discourse. Civil conflict between government forces 
and Marxist guerrillas greatly exacerbated political polarization 
rooted in historical dichotomy between wealthy elite and im- 
poverished and excluded majority. In late 1980s, the two major 
political parties were the moderate, center-left Christian Democratic 
Party (Partido Democrata Cristiano — PDC) and the right-wing Na- 
tionalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista — 
Arena). As of late 1988, PDC held presidency, but Arena had one- 
seat majority in Legislative Assembly. 


International Relations: Mainly limited to Central American 
region until 1980s, when civil conflict made El Salvador focus of 
international attention. Relations with United States became in- 
creasingly important during 1 980s because of critical contribution 
of United States economic and military aid to survival of elected 
government, bolstering of war-ravaged economy, and improved 
performance of armed forces. Government of Jose Napoleon Duarte 
Fuentes participated actively in Contadora process, a joint Latin 
American mediating effort seeking to ease Central American ten- 
sions through diplomatic negotiations. Duarte signed Central 
American Peace Agreement, product of unmediated talks among 
the Central American states, in August 1987. 

International Agreements and Membership: Party to Inter- 
American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). Also mem- 
ber of Organization of American States, Central American Com- 
mon Market, United Nations, and several of its specialized agencies: 
World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Inter-American 
Development Bank. 

National Security 

Armed Forces: Salvadoran armed forces included army, air force, 
navy, and security forces (National Guard, National Police, and 
Treasury Police). Total strength about 59,000 in late 1980s— 47,000 
regular armed forces and 12,600 security forces. 

Organization: Country divided into six military zones and four- 
teen subordinate military regions. In 1980s army consisted of six 
infantry brigades, nine cadre infantry regiments, one mechanized 
cavalry regiment, one artillery brigade, one engineer battalion, six 
independent immediate-reaction battalions, and seven detachments. 
Air force made up of four squadrons of fixed- wing aircraft and one 
helicopter squadron. Air force antiaircraft artillery battalion and 
paratrooper battalion manned by army personnel. Navy, in addi- 
tion to coastal patrol units based mainly at La Union, included 
Marine Infantry Battalion and commando unit. 

Equipment: Most weaponry, especially after 1980, supplied by 
United States, although some aircraft of Brazilian and French 

Police: Responsibilities divided among components of security 
forces: National Police handled urban security; National Guard, 
rural security; and Treasury Police (including customs and im- 
migration), border control. 




EVENTS IN EL SALVADOR assumed worldwide prominence 
in the late 1970s as political and social tensions fueled a violent 
civil conflict that persisted throughout the 1980s. The intense con- 
troversy and scrutiny accorded this diminutive nation ran counter 
to the relative obscurity that had characterized it during its colonial 
and national history. A backwater of the Spanish Empire, El Sal- 
vador passed through the turbulent era of the Central American 
Federation (1823-41) to separate independence as a liberal state 
dominated both politically and economically by a landed oli- 
garchy (see The Coffee Republic, ch. 1). The roots of this elite- 
dominated system lie in Spanish colonial structures; the system 
bequeathed to modern El Salvador a legacy of economic and so- 
cial inequality and political authoritarianism — not a promising base 
on which to build a democratic state. 

For many Salvadorans, land tenure crystallizes the inequality 
of their society. Historically, the elite held title to most of the produc- 
tive arable land. This was especially true by the late nineteenth 
century after the abolition of Indian communal lands known as 
ejidos and the consequent seizure of the bulk of those lands by pri- 
vate owners. Although the desire for land reform has been strong 
throughout Salvadoran history, no effective change in the concen- 
tration of land took place until 1980, when a military-civilian junta 
government decreed a three-phase program (see The Reformist 
Coup of 1979, ch. 1). The impact of the 1980 reforms is undenia- 
ble; their scope and significance for the future of the country, 
however, are matters of continuing controversy. This volume at- 
tempts to synthesize divergent opinions on this question, noting 
both the accomplishments and the limitations of the reforms (see 
Agrarian Reform, ch. 2; The Land Tenure System, ch. 3; The 
Constitution of 1983, ch. 4). Although the term agrarian reform is 
commonly applied to the Salvadoran effort, the term land reform 
more correctly describes the program because it failed to follow 
up the transfer of ownership with credit and other forms of support. 

El Salvador's history of dependence on the export of a single 
agricultural commodity — first cacao, then indigo, then coffee — 
locked the country into a "boom and bust" economic cycle that 
persists to this day (see Growth and Structure of the Economy, 
ch. 3). Apart from its purely economic effects, such as wide fluc- 
tuations in foreign exchange, domestic income, and employment, 
this system also weakened the country's security. Failure to diversify 


and the consequent heavy reliance on exports of coffee and the other 
two leading commodities, cotton and sugar, made producers, 
processors, and distributors of those products the targets of attacks 
by antigovernment guerrilla forces that sought to topple the na- 
tional economy by chipping away at its broad underpinnings (see 
Major Crops and Commodities, ch. 3). The economic burden of 
the civil conflict — estimated at approximately US$2 billion in the 
1979-88 period — inhibited any effective restructuring and further 
enhanced the importance of coffee exports as the major source of 
foreign exchange and the only viable short-term alternative to con- 
tinued infusions of economic aid from the United States. 

Throughout most of El Salvador's history, traditions of politi- 
cal authoritarianism accompanied by repression by the military and 
the security forces had led to a generally exclusionary political 
process that only occasionally produced limited reforms in areas 
such as education and public welfare (see Repression and Reform 
under Military Rule, ch. 1). As was the case in other aspects of 
Salvadoran life, however, the cycle of change initiated by the 
reformist military coup of 1979 and driven by the civil conflict also 
transformed governmental and political institutions. With en- 
couragement and support from Washington, the Salvadorans 
promulgated a new constitution in 1983 that allowed for the free 
election of a president, members of a Legislative Assembly, and 
municipal representatives. From March 1982 to March 1989, voters 
cast their ballots in six free and fair elections. Although some com- 
mentators have rightly noted that elections alone do not constitute 
democracy, this record of popular participation in the face of con- 
sistent and violent efforts by the guerrillas to disrupt balloting should 
not be dismissed. To many observers the participation of the leftist 
Democratic Convergence (Convergencia Democratica — CD) in the 
1989 presidential election suggested that the system was approaching 
a level of institutionalization that might allow it to incorporate all 
political sectors, even those associated with the previously rejec- 
tionist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front-Revolutionary 
Democratic Front (Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberation Nacional- 
Frente Democratico Revolucionario — FMLN-FDR). 

Although the connections were not as clear as FMLN-FDR 
propagandists asserted, the continuing civil conflict did have some 
precursors in such uprisings as Anastasio Aquino's rebellion in 1833 
and the 1932 rural insurrection led by communist organizers such 
as Agustin Farabundo Marti. The latter incident, fed by severe 
economic distress provoked by the Great Depression, set off the 
military's bloody overreaction {la matanza), in which thousands of 
people, mainly Indian campesinos, perished (see Economic Crisis 


and Repression, ch. 1). Although an aberration in terms of its scope, 
la matanza also represented a warning of the extreme violence that 
lay beneath the surface of Salvadoran life. That warning rang out 
again, in a more complex social and political context, in the 1970s. 

Most commentators agree that the refusal of the military to recog- 
nize the victory of Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes, one of the found- 
ers of the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Democrata 
Cristiano — PDC), in the 1972 presidential elections set in motion 
a chain of events that led directly to the violent civil conflict that 
afflicted the country throughout the 1980s (see Dashed Hopes: The 
1972 Elections, ch. 1). The failure of the system to respond to the 
legitimate political aspirations of an emerging middle class strength- 
ened the arguments of those on the fringes of the political spec- 
trum who preached a revolutionary doctrine. The diverse coalition 
that initially supported the violent overthrow of the military govern- 
ment included students, disillusioned politicians of a leftist or 
progressive stripe, "liberationist" Roman Catholic clergy and lay- 
men, peasants, and guerrilla/terrorist groups with ties to Cuba and, 
after 1979, to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua (see The 
1970s: The Road to Revolt, ch. 1; Revolutionary Groups, ch. 2; 
Left- Wing Extremism, ch. 5). The latter groups saw themselves 
as the vanguard of a revolution. The escalation of terrorism and 
paramilitary violence in the early 1980s by both rightist and leftist 
forces further restricted the range of political action in El Salvador; 
at the same time, the perception that the guerrilla forces sought 
to redress socioeconomic inequities brought them adherents at home 
and supporters abroad. 

The reformist military coup of 1979 was an effort by concerned 
sectors of the armed forces to provide an alternative to leftist revo- 
lution and to prevent El Salvador from becoming "another Nic- 
aragua. ' ' Although much of the original promise of the coup, e.g. , 
significant agrarian reform, never materialized, the action by the 
armed forces altered the trend of events by reintroducing Duarte 's 
PDC into the political arena and by providing an entree for the 
United States government to play a major role in funding and 
fashioning a political and military response to the country's crisis. 
Without United States support, it is likely that the guerrilla forces, 
which united under the banner of the FMLN in 1980, would have 
taken power or forced a coalition government by 1983-84. With 
Washington's support and active involvement, the armed forces 
expanded both their force levels and their equipment inventory, 
forcing the FMLN to adopt the classic guerrilla tactics of hit-and- 
run attack, sabotage, intimidation, propaganda, and rural mobili- 


The nature and proper description of the conflict between govern- 
ment forces and adherents of the FMLN-FDR have been the sub- 
ject of some debate. This volume has chosen to employ the term 
civil conflict for several reasons. Although the term civil war is fre- 
quently applied to the conflict in the North American press and 
elsewhere, the scope of the conflict and the estimated level of popular 
support for the FMLN-FDR were judged to be insufficient to justify 
that description. Other observers, particularly in the early 1980s, 
have described the "Salvadoran Revolution" as a movement similar 
to that which brought the Sandinista National Liberation Front 
(Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional — FSLN) to power in 
Nicaragua. The post- 1983 narrowing of the Salvadoran conflict 
in both military and political terms, however, rendered it closer 
to an insurgency than to a true revolution; therefore, the term in- 
surgency is also utilized throughout the volume, usually in a mili- 
tary context. In the broader sense, however, insurgency is too 
limited a description, given the level of social upheaval that ac- 
companied the initiation of hostilities in the early 1980s, the sup- 
port (however unquantifiable) for the FMLN-FDR among certain 
sectors of the population, the crippling economic impact of guer- 
rilla attacks, the high number (some late 1988 estimates exceeded 
60,000) of fatalities attributed to military engagements and politi- 
cally motivated violence, and the unresolved social and political 
tensions that still prevail in El Salvador. The term civil conflict is 
thus a sort of compromise and is employed in a broad political- 
military sense. 

The conflict raged on several fronts in 1989. In the field, a battle- 
hardened and politically indoctrinated corps of FMLN guerrillas 
frustrated the efforts of the armed forces to eliminate them militarily. 
A low-intensity conflict, marked by indecisive armed clashes and 
a constant struggle for the "hearts and minds" of the rural popu- 
lation, defined the efforts of both sides. On the political front, the 
electoral process represented only the most visible arena of com- 
petition. The judiciary, inefficient and biased in favor of the well- 
to-do, exemplified the need for institutional reform if El Salvador 
wished to emerge from the conflict as a functional society governed 
by the rule of law. The Duarte administration (1984-89) took sev- 
eral steps toward reforming the judiciary, but much remained to 
be accomplished in this area (see The Criminal Justice System, 
ch. 5). 

As it drew to a close, the Duarte government appeared bereft 
of major accomplishments. Duarte 's failure to end the civil con- 
flict, to stabilize the economy, and to maintain his PDC as a via- 
ble alternative to the extremes of the right and the left disappointed 


many of his followers at home and his supporters abroad. Any fair 
assessment of Duarte's contribution, however, must take into ac- 
count the extremely trying circumstances under which he governed. 
With the civil conflict as a constant backdrop, Duarte struggled 
to exert influence over a military institution with no history of obe- 
dience to civilian authority; to implement land and other reforms 
in the face of determined resistance by the elite; to maintain cru- 
cial economic and military support from the United States; and 
to negotiate an honorable settlement with the FMLN-FDR. The 
personal stresses of the 1985 kidnapping of his daughter by the 
FMLN and his 1988 diagnosis of terminal liver cancer also weighed 
heavily on him and may well have affected his decision making 
and weakened his influence over the armed forces, the government, 
and his party. Duarte himself admitted in May 1989 that his most 
significant achievement would be the transfer of power to his suc- 
cessor, Alfredo Cristiani Burkard. This would be the first transi- 
tion in Salvadoran history from one elected civilian president to 

The new president's party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance 
(Alianza Republicana Nacionalista — Arena), was a political enig- 
ma to most observers. Arena presented two faces to the world; one 
was Cristiani' s, and the other belonged to party founder Roberto 
D'Aubuisson Arrieta. The image fostered by Cristiani and his fol- 
lowers was one of comparative political moderation, support for 
free enterprise, a desire to adjust but not completely repeal the previ- 
ously enacted economic reforms, and a willingness to explore op- 
tions for resolving the civil conflict, possibly through negotiations 
with the FMLN-FDR. Conversely, D'Aubuisson's faction of the 
party reportedly aspired to restore — to the extent possible — the eco- 
nomic order and landownership pattern that had prevailed before 
the 1980 reforms (see The Structure of Society, ch. 2). These hard- 
line areneros also reportedly favored a concept of "total war" against 
the guerrillas. Also referred to as the "Guatemalan solution" after 
a violent style of counterinsurgency waged in that country in the 
mid-1980s, such an approach would inevitably entail sharply in- 
creased civilian casualties. In the minds of some observers, 
D'Aubuisson's reputed ties to right-wing death squads in the early 
1980s also called up the specter of sharply increased levels of hu- 
man rights violations should his faction prove to be the dominant 
one within the party. 

Cristiani garnered an absolute majority in the elections of 
March 19, 1989, taking 53 percent of the vote; the runner-up, PDC 
candidate Fidel Chavez Mena, drew 36 percent. The PDC's fu- 
ture was uncertain because of a lack of strong, credible leadership 


and the widespread popular disillusionment stemming from 
Duarte's seemingly ineffectual rule. The party enjoyed a firm 
organizational base, however, and almost certainly would survive 
as a viable opposition. As had been the case for Arena, the prospects 
for the PDC will depend to a great extent upon the performance 
of the party in power. 

Cristiani's election arguably acquired a greater legitimacy than 
Duarte's 1984 victory as a result of the participation of the CD, 
which ran as its presidential candidate Guillermo Manuel Ungo 
Revelo, leader of the FMLN's political arm, the FDR. At the same 
time, the CD's poor electoral showing of less than 4 percent called 
into question the level of popular support for the FMLN-FDR and 
for the left in general after years of civil strife. 

As his June 1, 1989, inauguration approached, Cristiani's po- 
litical position was strong, based on the mandate of a first-round 
electoral victory, his party's effective control of all three branches 
of government (judicial appointments emanate from the Legisla- 
tive Assembly), and the recent appointment of an aggressive chief 
of the Joint General Staff, Colonel Rene Emilio Ponce Torres. Al- 
though some members of the United States Congress expressed 
concern over the electoral outcome based on Arena's violent image 
and history, the consensus in that body in the immediate postelec- 
toral period appeared to favor sustained levels of aid conditioned 
on continued efforts by the Salvadorans to stem human rights vio- 
lations by military and paramilitary groups. Cristiani's intentions 
with regard to the future conduct of the civil conflict remained am- 
biguous during the interregnum. His position on negotiations with 
the FMLN paralleled that of outgoing President Duarte. "We are 
willing to talk," he was quoted as saying during the presidential 
campaign, "but not to negotiate any platform." From this view- 
point, the Salvadoran Constitution and government are established 
and inviolable, and the only basis for negotiations lies in the in- 
tegration of the guerrillas into that system. The leaders of the FMLN 
showed few signs of accepting this course, which they had rejected 
several times in the past. 

The FMLN appeared to show some flexibility in its negotiating 
stance in January 1989, however, when it announced a plan under 
which it would participate in and recognize the results of the 
presidential election under certain conditions. The stipulations in- 
cluded a six-month postponement of the balloting, enhanced secu- 
rity guarantees for the CD, the drafting of a revised Electoral Code, 
the establishment of provisions for absentee balloting, and the re- 
striction of armed forces personnel to quarters on election day. The 
proposal dropped the previous FMLN demands for a power-sharing 


arrangement and the integration of guerrilla forces into a revamped 
national military organization. President Duarte initially rejected 
the proposal, citing the unconstitutionality of extending his term 
past June 1 . Consideration of the offer was extended, however, 
after the United States Department of State announced that it was 
"worthy of serious and substantive consideration." During a late 
February meeting in Mexico, FMLN leaders Francisco Jovel 
("Roberto Roca") and Jorge Shafik Handal and representatives 
of the major Salvadoran political parties agreed to curtail the post- 
ponement demand from six to four months, but the FMLN in- 
troduced new demands for the restructuring of the Salvadoran 
security forces and a reduction in the overall force level of the armed 

The new security-related demands effectively invalidated the 
proposal, given the lack of enthusiasm or incentive for the High 
Command to accept a unilateral drawdown of its forces. Duarte 's 
final counteroffer, announced after consultation with the armed 
forces leadership, called for a six- week delay in balloting, an im- 
mediate cease-fire, and direct talks among the executive branch, 
leaders of the Legislative Assembly, and FMLN delegates. The 
offer drew an enthusiastic endorsement from the Department of 
State; the FMLN, however, rejected it. 

Observers disagreed as to whether the proposal constituted a 
genuine effort to resolve the civil conflict or merely another in a 
series of tactical maneuvers by the rebels. The discussions failed 
to produce a cessation of hostilities inside El Salvador. FMLN forces 
continued their policy of assassinating elected mayors; a car bomb 
exploded on February 21 in San Salvador near the headquarters 
of the army's First Infantry Brigade; and attacks by guerrilla forces 
in Apopa and Zacatecoluca left more than two dozen soldiers and 
civilians dead. In a significant terrorist action, FMLN defector 
Napoleon Romero, also known as Miguel Castellanos, was assas- 
sinated in the capital on February 17. As the March 19 election 
approached, the rebels' radio broadcasts warned citizens of a na- 
tionwide transportation stoppage and an intensified campaign 
against military installations. Even the CD's Ungo was forced to 
flee from a March 16 attack on a National Guard barracks in San 
Salvador. Rebel efforts to disrupt the balloting were cited by some 
sources as a partial explanation for the comparatively low voter 
turnout of just over 50 percent. 

The assassination of the country's attorney general by an FMLN 
terrorist on April 19, 1989, signaled the new administration that 
negotiation and conciliation no longer occupied a prominent posi- 
tion on the rebels' short-term agenda. A number of observers 


believed that the FMLN would deliberately escalate both rural at- 
tacks and urban terrorism in an effort to provoke the extremist wing 
of Arena into a backlash of repression against suspected leftist sub- 
versives, a tactic that presumably would diminish the authority and 
standing of the Cristiani administration and enhance the popular 
appeal of the guerrillas. No realistic or credible voices predicted 
a reduction in the prevailing level of violence or a short-term reso- 
lution of the conflict. As the 1980s drew to a close, El Salvador 
seemed to be locked into a state of chronic instability and conflict. 

May 16, 1989 

* * * 

On November 11, 1989, the FMLN launched a major military 
offensive that brought heavy fighting to San Salvador for the first 
time in the civil conflict. The kickoff of the offensive followed a deci- 
sion by the guerrilla leadership to suspend ongoing negotiations with 
the Cristiani administration. Although the rebels' communique an- 
nouncing the abandonment of the peace talks cited the October 3 1 
bombing of a union headquarters — presumably by a right-wing 
group — the offensive had clearly been in the planning stages for 
months prior to that event. The late October seizure by Honduran 
authorities of a weapons cache in a van en route to El Salvador from 
Nicaragua strengthened the claims of the Salvadoran armed forces 
that the Sandinista government continued to provide material aid to 
the FMLN despite numerous denials of such support from Managua. 

Throughout October, spiraling acts of political violence had con- 
tributed to an extremely tense atmosphere throughout the coun- 
try. FMLN personnel in late September attacked the home of the 
commander of the Third Infantry Brigade in San Miguel depart- 
ment and shot to death the daughter of another army colonel in 
mid-October. In response, right-wing groups bombed the homes 
of leftist politicians, including that of Ruben Zamora Rivas, the 
vice presidential candidate of the CD in the 1989 elections. Some 
observers likewise viewed the bombing of the union headquarters, 
which killed ten people and wounded thirty, as a response to an 
unsuccessful rebel mortar attack on the San Salvador headquar- 
ters of the Joint General Staff. 

The November offensive focused on San Salvador, although the 
rebels also launched simultaneous attacks in the departments of 
San Miguel, Usulutan, Santa Ana, La Paz, and Morazan. For more 
than a week, FMLN guerrillas held positions in poor neighbor- 
hoods of the capital. Some civilians joined the combatants in erecting 
fortifications; others acquired weapons and joined in the fighting. 


According to most reports, the majority of the former group were 
pressed into service, while most of the latter were members of 
"popular organizations" (also known as mass organizations) — 
labor, human rights, and other groups that had served as legal fronts 
for the FMLN. Heavy fighting went on for more than a week; 
casualties were high. The Salvadoran armed forces, trained in rural 
counterinsurgency, not urban house-to-house combat, relied on 
aerial fire support from both helicopters and fixed-wing gunships 
to root out the guerrillas. Although this tactic may have spared 
the lives of some soldiers, it greatly increased the toll on the civilian 
population. Estimates of those killed in the fighting exceeded 1,000, 
with more than 30,000 displaced from their battle-damaged homes. 
Toward the end of the offensive, the rebels briefly occupied posi- 
tions in the Escalon section of the city, a bastion of the Salvadoran 
upper class that had never experienced at first hand the violence 
of the conflict. 

On November 16, six Jesuit priests and two women were mur- 
dered on the campus of the Central American University Jose 
Simeon Canas in San Salvador. The six, including the rector and 
vice rector of the university, were prominent leftist intellectuals who 
maintained contacts with members of the FMLN and were there- 
fore branded as "communists" by the Salvadoran right wing. The 
circumstances of their deaths, which took place after curfew (im- 
posed when President Cristiani declared a state of emergency on 
November 12) in an area controlled by the army, led most observ- 
ers to blame military personnel. President Cristiani condemned 
the atrocity and attended the priests' funeral. Nevertheless, the bla- 
tant nature of the act and the probable involvement of some ele- 
ment of the armed forces raised doubts about the president's 
authority and prompted calls from some members of the United 
States Congress to either cut future aid or condition it on the 
progress of the investigation. 

Under pressure from the United States government, Cristiani 
announced on January 7, 1990, that an investigation undertaken 
with the assistance of police officials from Britain, Spain, and the 
United States had determined that armed forces personnel had in- 
deed been involved in the murder of the Jesuits. Subsequendy, nine 
members of the army, including a colonel and four lieutenants, 
were arrested. The colonel, Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, com- 
mander of the Captain General Gerardo Barrios Military Acade- 
my, was also a member of the same graduating class (the so-called 
tandona, or big class) as the chief of the Joint General Staff, Colonel 
Ponce. Some reports claimed that certain members of the officer 
corps resented Ponce's willingness to "betray" a classmate by 


acquiescing in Benavides's detention, in contravention of the es- 
tablished tradition of solidarity among members of a tanda. If ulti- 
mately brought to trial, Colonel Benavides and the lieutenants 
would be the first Salvadoran officers prosecuted for human rights 

Intensified controversy and political polarization all but guaran- 
teed the prolongation of the civil conflict. The leadership of the 
FMLN, who had never favored the incorporation of leftist parties 
such as the CD into the existing political framework, undoubtedly 
undertook the offensive with this goal in mind. One major result 
of the offensive appeared to be a rededication of the guerrilla forces 
to a strategy of revolutionary struggle devoid of the political in- 
volvement represented by the CD and the popular organizations. 
The resumption of hostilities on a large scale, particularly in the 
capital, may also have been intended to provoke the kind of right- 
wing backlash represented by the murder of the Jesuits. 

El Salvador's foreign relations, aside from the imperative of main- 
taining aid from the United States, continued to focus on Central 
America. On November 26, 1989, Cristiani indefinitely suspended 
diplomatic and trade relations with Nicaragua in response to strong 
evidence of Sandinista involvement in providing surface-to-air mis- 
siles and other weapons to the FMLN. One day earlier, a light 
plane carrying such missiles crashed in eastern El Salvador; piloted 
by a Nicaraguan and with Cuban nationals on board, the plane 
apparently had experienced mechanical trouble sometime after 
takeoff from Montelimar, near Managua. The introduction of 
surface-to-air missiles threatened to restrict the Salvadoran armed 
forces' use of helicopters in transport, fire support, and medivac 
roles; the involvement of the Nicaraguan and Cuban governments 
in supplying such weapons indicated support for the FMLN strategy 
of prolonging the conflict through military escalation. 

The suspension of relations cast a cloud over the summit of the 
five Central American presidents, held in San Jose, Costa Rica, 
on December 10-12, 1989, as part of the ongoing peace process 
under the terms of the Esquipulas II agreement. Despite sev- 
eral heated rhetorical exchanges between the Salvadoran and 
Nicaraguan governments prior to the summit, Nicaraguan presi- 
dent Daniel Ortega Saavedra endorsed the presidents' final decla- 
ration, which asserted ''solid support for Salvadoran president 
Alfredo Cristiani and for his government." The declaration fur- 
ther urged a cessation of hostilities in El Salvador and the resump- 
tion of a dialogue between the government and the FMLN. To 
that end, the presidents called on the secretary general of the United 
Nations to act as a mediator between the two sides. The presidents 


had previously requested that the UN establish an Observer Group 
in Central America in order to facilitate the demobilization of the 
Nicaraguan Resistance forces (the contras). The December decla- 
ration expanded that request to include the FMLN. 

For its part, the FMLN initially condemned the presidents' decla- 
ration as "neither realistic nor viable." In mid-January, however, 
the guerrilla leadership announced its acceptance of UN media- 
tion and expressed its willingness to resume negotiations within 
thirty days. Neither the rebels nor the government, however, gave 
any public indication of a willingness to alter their previous negotiat- 
ing positions. 

January 23, 1990 Richard A. Haggerty 


Chapter 1. Historical Setting 

Pedro de Alvarado, Spanish conqueror of El Salvador 

THE HISTORY OF EL SALVADOR revolves around one cen- 
tral issue — land. In this, the smallest country in Central America, 
land always has been a scarce commodity whose importance has 
been amplified by the comparative absence of precious metals or 
lucrative mineral deposits. Agriculture defined the economic life 
of the country well before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors 
in the early 1500s, and, despite some modest advances in indus- 
trial capacity, agriculture has continued to dominate the nation's 
wealth, social structure, and political dynamics. 

The unequal distribution of land in El Salvador can be traced 
directly to the Spanish colonial system, under which land title was 
vested in the crown. Those select individuals granted control of 
specified areas acted, at least in theory, only as stewards over the 
lands and peoples under their control. Although private property 
rights eventually were established, the functional structure put in 
place by the Spanish was perpetuated well into the twentieth cen- 
tury by the landed oligarchy, with the assistance of the military. 

Although the indigenous, or Indian, population gradually was 
diminished through disease and abuse and eventually subsumed 
into a growing mestizo (mixed Caucasian and Indian) population, 
its position at the base of society was assumed by the rural lower 
class. Until the mid-twentieth century, the patterns of landowner- 
ship and income distribution ran unrelentingly against this seg- 
ment of the population. As elsewhere in Latin America, those with 
more got more, those with less got less. Under the model of 
monoculture export that came to prevail in El Salvador, the con- 
centration of land into large units, or haciendas, made for greater 
overall efficiency of production. The other side of the economic 
coin, however, was engraved with images of worsening poverty, 
deprivation, illiteracy, and disease as the single-minded pursuit of 
wealth by a minuscule percentage of the population denied the vast 
majority of Salvadorans access to more than a subsistence level of 

Although slow to develop, the political ramifications of this 
process of skewed distribution were inevitable. Unfortunately for 
the marginalized campesinos (farmers or farm laborers), however, 
the landowners were prepared to protect their gains by force against 
any effort to improve the lot of the lower class. A rural uprising 
in 1833, led by Indian leader Anastasio Aquino, was put down 
by forces hired by the landowners. A century later, another 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

insurrection, this time led by the Marxist Agustin Farabundo Marti, 
provoked a now-legendary reprisal known as la matanza (the mas- 
sacre). The troops that carried out this action, in which by some 
estimates as many as 30,000 Salvadorans were killed, belonged to 
the Salvadoran armed forces. Institutionalized and nominally 
independent from the landed oligarchy, the armed forces proceeded 
from that point to assume control of the political process in El 

The Salvadoran officer corps was not altogether unsympathetic 
to popular sentiment for reform of the oligarchic system. In the 
Salvadoran political equation, however, the economic elite's 
resistance to change remained a given. Therefore, efforts by the 
military to institute gradual, guided reforms — land reform chief 
among them — repeatedly ran into the brick wall of elite opposi- 
tion and influence. It was not until 1980, when the officer corps 
allied itself publicly with the middle-class Christian Democratic 
Party, that substantive reform appeared achievable. By that time, 
however, El Salvador stood on the threshold of a major civil con- 
flict between government forces backed by the United States and 
guerrillas supported by Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. 
This conflict catapulted the country's internal conflicts onto the 
world stage. The future course of reform in El Salvador was thus 
uncertain, as the nation entered the 1980s burdened with the lega- 
cies of economic and social inequality and political exclusion of the 
middle and lower classes by the elite. 

Spanish Conquest and Colonization 

When the Spanish first ventured into Central America from the 
colony of New Spain (Mexico) in the early sixteenth century, the 
area that would become El Salvador was populated primarily by 
Indians of the Pipil tribe. The Pipil were a subgroup of a nomadic 
people known as the Nahua, who had migrated into Central 
America about 3000 B.C. The Nahua eventually fell under the sway 
of the Maya Empire, which dominated the Mesoamerican region 
until its decline in the ninth century A.D. Pipil culture did not reach 
the advanced level achieved by the Maya; it has been compared, 
albeit on a smaller scale, to that of the Aztecs in Mexico. The Pipil 
nation, believed to have been founded in the eleventh century, was 
organized into two major federated states subdivided into smaller 
principalities. Although primarily an agricultural people, the Pipil 
built a number of large urban centers, some of which developed 
into present-day cities, such as Sonsonate and Ahuachapan (see 

fig. i). 



Ruins at Tazumal 

The Pipil were a determined people who stoutly resisted Span- 
ish efforts to extend their dominion southward. The first such effort 
by Spanish forces was led by Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of 
Hernan Cortes in the conquest of Mexico. It met with stiff resistance 
from the indigenous population. Alvarado 's expeditionary force 
entered El Salvador — or Cuscadan, as it was known by the Pipil — in 
June 1524. The Spaniards were defeated in a major engagement 
shortly thereafter and were forced to withdraw to Guatemala. Two 
subsequent expeditions were required — in 1525 and 1528 — to bring 
the Pipil under Spanish control. It is noteworthy that the name 
of the supposed leader of the Indian resistance, Atlacatl, has been 
perpetuated and honored among the Salvadorans to the relative 
exclusion of that of Alvarado. In this sense, the Salvadoran 
ambivalence toward the conquest bears a resemblance to the prevail- 
ing opinion in Mexico, where Cortes is more reviled than cele- 

The Spanish had come to Central America seeking, at least in 
part, to add to the store of precious metals that constituted the most 
immediate spoils of the Mexican conquest. In the small colony that 
they dubbed El Salvador ("the savior"), they were severely dis- 
appointed in this regard. What little gold was available was acces- 
sible only through the laborious and time-consuming method of 
panning, a process that consumed the effort of numerous impressed 
Indian laborers for a number of years. Denied the opportunity for 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

quick riches, the conquistadors and later the Spanish settlers even- 
tually came to realize that the sole exploitable resource of El Sal- 
vador was the land. 

El Salvador thus was relegated to the status of a backwater of 
the Spanish Empire. In this state of neglect and isolation, the seeds 
of the country's politico-economic structure were planted. Large 
tracts of land were granted by the crown, initially under the terms 
of the encomienda (see Glossary) system, whereby the grantee was 
invested with the right to collect tribute from the native inhabi- 
tants of a designated area. The manifest abuse of the Indian popu- 
lation that resulted from the encomienda system contributed to its 
replacement in the mid-sixteenth century by the repartimiento (see 
Glossary) system. Under repartimiento, representatives of the crown 
were empowered to regulate the work allotment and treatment of 
Indian laborers. Although more humane in theory, it was a sys- 
tem that was extremely vulnerable to abuse. The colony's distance 
from the mother country, the ease with which royal officials could 
be corrupted, and the prevailing disregard among the elite — made 
up of peninsulares, born in Spain, and criollos born in the New World 
of Spanish parentage — for the plight of the Indians militated against 
any substantive improvement in living conditions for the indigenous 

Although landholders in El Salvador exercised nearly absolute 
power within their fiefdoms, they did not begin to realize the full 
economic potential of their holdings until they instituted the sys- 
tem of widespread cultivation of a single lucrative export com- 
modity. The first of these commodities was cacao, which flourished 
during the latter half of the sixteenth century. Cultivation of in- 
digo followed and produced tremendous profits during the eight- 
eenth century. Largely as a result of the importance of the indigo 
trade, the colonial capital of San Salvador eventually came to be 
considered the second city of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, 
the Spanish administrative unit that encompassed most of Central 
America during the colonial period. The indigo boom effectively 
played itself out by the mid-nineteenth century, however, after the 
discovery in Germany of a synthetic dye that could be produced 
much more economically. 

The fortunes of the Spanish Empire waned throughout the eigh- 
teenth century and were dashed completely by the Napoleonic con- 
quest of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. As the Salvadorans moved 
toward independence, the legacies of their progenitors, both Indian 
and Spanish, were firmly fixed. The predominance of agriculture 
was a fact of life well before the Conquest; the Spanish contrib- 
uted to this basic system by emphasizing production for export 


Historical Setting 

versus cultivation for subsistence. Individual loyalties under the 
pre-Conquest civilization were given primarily to one's family and 
to one's village; Spanish rule did little or nothing to change this 
attitude or to build any substantial sense of national identity among 
the common people. Religious influence on daily life was strong 
in both pre-Conquest and colonial societies. The simple animistic 
nature of the Indians' beliefs allowed for the ready assimilation 
of Roman Catholic dogma. As elsewhere in Latin America, the 
hierarchical structure of the church complemented the rigid stratifi- 
cation of colonial society. In many ways, independence would serve 
only to exacerbate the inequities inherent in that society. 

El Salvador and the United Provinces of 
Central America 

The colonies comprising the Captaincy General of Guatemala 
declared their independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. 
It was not long before the new states, particularly El Salvador, had 
to contend with attempted annexation by another large power in 
the form of an independent Mexico under self-proclaimed Emperor 
Agustin de Iturbide. A Mexican force dispatched by Iturbide suc- 
ceeded in bringing to heel the uncooperative Salvadorans, but only 
briefly. When the emperor himself fell from power in 1823, his 
dream of a Central American empire died with him. The five states 
of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica 
went on to establish themselves as the United Provinces of Cen- 
tral America on July 1, 1823 (see fig. 2). 

The United Provinces, unworkable though they proved to be, 
constituted the only successful political union of the Central Ameri- 
can states in the postcolonial era. Many optimistic residents of the 
region no doubt held high hopes for this new nation at its incep- 
tion. Their sentiments were expressed elegantly, though ironically — 
given the subsequent course of events — by the liberator of South 
America, Simon Bolivar, who expounded in 1815 on the prospects 
for such a federation: "This magnificent location between the two 
great oceans could in time become the emporium of the world. Its 
canals will shorten the distances throughout the world, strengthen 
commercial ties with Europe, America, and Asia, and bring that 
happy region tribute from the four quarters of the globe. Perhaps 
some day the capital of the world may be located there, just as Con- 
stantine claimed Byzantium was the capital of the ancient world." 

Unfortunately for those of Bolivar's idealistic inclinations, the 
Central American Federation was not immune to the conflict be- 
tween liberals and conservatives that afflicted nineteenth-century 
Latin America as a whole. Generally speaking, the liberals were 


El Salvador: A Country Study 


Historical Setting 

more open to foreign ideas (particularly from the United States, 
France, and Britain); they welcomed foreign investment and par- 
ticipation in a laissez-faire process of economic development; and 
they sought to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church 
over the lives of the people. The conservatives' inclinations were 
almost diametrically opposed to those of the liberals. Conserva- 
tives were generally more xenophobic; they advocated more pro- 
tectionist economic policies; and they championed the traditional 
role of the church as the predominant moral arbiter and preserver 
of the social and political status quo. 

Split by the dichotomy between liberals and conservatives, the 
United Provinces never functioned as the unified national unit 
envisioned by its founders. Control of the federal government passed 
from liberal to conservative hands in 1826, only to be restored to 
the liberal faction under the leadership of the Honduran Francisco 
Morazan in 1829. Neither faction, however, was able to assert fed- 
eral control over all five Central American states. Therefore, 
although the liberal governments enacted political, economic, and 
social reforms, they were never able to implement them effectively. 
The period of the United Provinces was thus one of Central Ameri- 
can polarization impelled by deep divisions among the populace, 
not the unification originally anticipated by idealists. 

El Salvador was a stronghold of liberal sentiment. Most Salva- 
dorans, therefore, supported the rule of Morazan, who served as 
president of the federation from 1829 to 1840 when he was not lead- 
ing forces in the field against the conservative followers of Rafael 
Carrera of Guatemala. In the waning days of liberal rule, San Sal- 
vador served as Morazan 's last bastion. Unable to stem the tide of 
conservative backlash, the liberal forces fell to those of Carrera in 
March 1840. Morazan died before a firing squad in September 1842. 

The almost unceasing violence that attended the effort to unite 
Central America into one federated nation led the leaders of the 
five states to abandon that effort and declare their independence 
as separate political entities. El Salvador did so in January 1841. 
Although their destinies would remain intertwined and they would 
intervene in each other's affairs routinely in the years to come, the 
countries of Central America would from that time function as frag- 
mented and competitive ministates readily exploitable by foreign 

The Coffee Republic 

The Oligarchy and the Liberal State 

Coffee would become the last of the great monoculture export 
commodities in El Salvador. Its widespread cultivation began in 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

the mid-nineteenth century as the world demand for indigo dried 
up. The huge profits that it yielded served as a further impetus 
for the process whereby land became concentrated in the hands 
of an oligarchy. Although legend and radical propaganda have 
quantified the oligarchy at the level of fourteen families, a figure 
of several hundred families lies much closer to the truth. A succes- 
sion of presidents, nominally both conservative and liberal, through- 
out the last half of the nineteenth century supported the seizure 
of land from individual smallholders and communal owners. 

Despite the continued participation of conservatives, however, 
the period of the establishment of the coffee republic (roughly 1871 
to 1927) is described commonly as the era of the liberal state in 
El Salvador. The church was not as powerful in El Salvador as 
in other Latin American states at the time; therefore, the economic 
aspects of liberalism — an adherence to the principles of free-market 
capitalism — dominated the conduct of the state. Anticlericalism was 
a distinctly secondary theme, expressed primarily through social 
legislation (such as the establishment of secular marriage and edu- 
cation) rather than though the kind of direct action, e.g., repres- 
sion and expropriation, taken against the church in nineteenth- 
and early twentieth-century Mexico. 

Despite some differences over the degree of emphasis of politi- 
cal versus economic issues, Salvadoran liberals generally agreed 
on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, on the 
development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily 
in support of the coffee trade, on the elimination of communal land- 
holdings to facilitate further coffee production, on the passage of 
antivagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other 
rural residents provided sufficient labor for the coffee fincas (plan- 
tations), and on the suppression of rural discontent. 

The coffee industry grew inexorably in El Salvador, after a some- 
what tentative start in the mid- 1800s. Between 1880 and 1914, the 
value of coffee exports rose by more than 1 , 100 percent. Although 
the coffee industry itself was not taxed by the government, tremen- 
dous revenue was raised indirectly through import duties on goods 
imported with the foreign currencies that coffee sales earned (goods 
intended for the consumption of the small coffee-producing elite). 
From 1870 to 1914, an average of 58.7 percent of government 
revenue derived from this source. Even if the coffee elite did not 
run the government directly (and many scholars argue that they 
did), the elite certainly provided the bulk of the government's finan- 
cial support. This support, coupled with the humbler and more 
mundane mechanisms of corruption, ensured the coffee growers 
of overwhelming influence within the government and the military. 


Historical Setting 

The priorities of the coffee industry dictated a shift in the mis- 
sion of the embryonic Salvadoran armed forces from external 
defense of the national territory to the maintenance of internal order. 
The creation of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional — GN) in 
1912 epitomizes this change (see The Security Forces, ch. 5). The 
duties of the GN differed from those of the National Police (Policia 
Nacional — PN), mainly in that GN personnel were specifically 
responsible for providing security on the coffee fincas. Most fincas 
enjoyed the services of their own GN units posted on the grounds; 
regional GN commanders routinely were compensated by the finca 
owners to ensure the continued loyalty of the guardsmen. 

Suppression of rural dissent was subtle and institutionalized; cam- 
pesinos generally accepted the status quo because of the implied 
threat of retaliation from the GN or other military units. One ex- 
ception to this pattern was Aquino's rebellion. Although it predated 
the coffee boom, its reverberations were felt throughout Salvadoran 
society for decades. 

Aquino was a laborer on an indigo hacienda in the region of 
Los Nonualcos in the central part of the country. He led a brief 
but violent uprising in 1833. The Indian participants aimed to end 
their impressment into the army and effect the return of tribute 
paid to the government under false pretenses after 1811, when trib- 
ute requirements were discontinued by the Spanish parliament (but 
payments were still collected by the local authorities). In the ini- 
tial uprising, several thousand rebels, mainly Indians, successfully 
captured several army posts between Santiago Nonualco and San 
Vicente, where Aquino's forces won a battle against government 
troops only to be defeated the next day by reinforcements mustered 
during the rebels' march. Had Aquino chosen to proceed directly 
to San Salvador after his early victories, the capital would have 
been largely undefended. As it was, the defeat at San Vicente 
effectively ended the rebellion, reestablished governmental control 
over the rural areas, led to Aquino's capture and execution some 
months later, and deterred any comparable act of violent dissent 
for approximately 100 years. 

From the time of its declaration of independence from Spain as 
a part of the United Provinces of Central America, El Salvador 
was governed under a succession of constitutions. A number of 
these documents were produced during the era of the liberal state. 
The constitution of 1871 attempted to increase the power of the 
legislature relative to that of the president; it specified a two-year 
term for the chief executive with no immediate reelection. The con- 
stitutions of 1872 and 1880 were drafted as little more than legal 
circumventions of that two-year restriction. The constitution of 1885 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

never went into effect because the body that drafted it, the National 
Assembly, was dissolved four days after its adoption. The last con- 
stitution of the liberal era, the constitution of 1886, was the lon- 
gest lived of all Salvadoran charters, governing the country until 
1939 and serving as the basis of a post-World War II document 
as well (see The Constitutions of El Salvador, 1824-1962, ch. 4). 

The men who served as presidents of the liberal state in El Sal- 
vador came to power through a limited array of means. Santiago 
Gonzalez, who assumed the office in 1871, apparently sought to 
establish a personalist dictatorship. He never successfully consoli- 
dated his rule, however, and was defeated by Andres Valle in the 
elections of 1876. Valle fell victim to one of the chronic afflictions 
of Salvadoran political history — intervention from Guatemala. Ht 
was replaced less than a year after his election by Rafael Zaldivar, 
who was more to the liking of the Guatemalan dictator Justo Rufino 
Barrios. Zaldivar proved exceptionally durable; he was twice elected 
president after his initial violent installation, serving as the coun- 
try's leader from 1876 until his overthrow in 1885 by forces led 
by Francisco Menendez, who was ousted and executed by his army 
commander, General Carlos Erzeta, in 1890. Erzeta is the only 
president during the period of the liberal state who is reputed to 
have made some effort to improve the lot of the lower classes by 
attempting to enforce an agricultural minimum wage, though the 
evidence for even this small gesture is sketchy. 

Another confrontation with Guatemala contributed to the down- 
fall of Erzeta, who was ousted in 1894 by Rafael Gutierrez; he, 
in turn, was replaced four years later in a bloodless coup led by 
General Tomas Regalado. His term took El Salvador rather un- 
eventfully into the twentieth century. Regalado' s peaceful trans- 
fer of power in 1903 to his handpicked successor, Pedro Jose 
Escalon, ushered in a period of comparative stability that extended 
until the depression-provoked upheaval of 1931-32. The only ex- 
ception to this pattern of peaceful succession was the assassination 
of President Manuel Enrique Araujo in 1913. Araujo was reputed 
to have held somewhat reformist views toward some of the poli- 
cies of the liberal state, in particular the notion of financing de- 
velopment through foreign loans. His assassination may have 
sprung from this sort of policy dispute, although the full motive 
has never been established satisfactorily. 

Araujo 's death ushered in a brief period of modified dynastic 
rule, whereby President Carlos Melendez named his brother Jorge 
as his successor; Jorge in turn tapped his brother-in-law, Alfonso 
Quifionez Molina, to succeed him. The Melendez and Quifionez 


Historical Setting 

clans were two of the most powerful among the ranks of the Sal- 
vadoran oligarchy. 

Throughout the period of the liberal state in El Salvador, the 
preeminent position of the oligarchy was never threatened by the 
actions of the government. Some have attributed this to the per- 
vasive influence of the organization that has been described as the 
"invisible government" of the country, the Coffee Growers Asso- 
ciation (Asociacion Cafetalera). The direct (in the case of the 
Melendez-Quinonez minidynasty) and indirect connections of the 
presidents of the period with the country's powerful families un- 
doubtedly came into play as well. Generally speaking, however, 
the system continued to function without adjustment because it 
worked well from the perspective of the small percentage of Sal- 
vadorans who benefited from it, namely the economic elite, upper- 
echelon government officials, and the military High Command. 

Although society in general appeared to be static under the liberal 
state, the same truly cannot be said for the Salvadoran oligarchy. 
The introduction of coffee production in itself changed the com- 
position of that group, as the new coffee barons joined the ranks 
of the old plantation owners (who in many cases were slow to recog- 
nize the potential of coffee and lost some wealth and standing by 
delaying their switch from indigo production). New blood also was 
introduced into the oligarchy by way of foreign immigration. These 
immigrants, who would eventually come to constitute the bulk of 
the Salvadoran merchant class, frequently married into the land- 
owning oligarchic families, further diversifying the composition of 
the elite stratum of society (see The Upper Sector, ch. 2). 

Another process worthy of note during this period despite its lack 
of tangible results was the ongoing series of unification efforts by 
the Central American states. El Salvador was a prime mover in 
most of these attempts to reestablish an isthmian federation. In 1872 
El Salvador signed a pact of union with Guatemala, Honduras, 
and Costa Rica, but the union was never implemented. In 1876 
a congress of all five Central American states failed to achieve agree- 
ment on federation. A provisional pact signed by the five states 
in 1889 technically created the "Republic of Central America"; 
that effort too never was realized. Undaunted, the governments 
of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed the "Greater 
Republic of Central America' ' (Republica Mayor de Centroamerica) 
via the Pact of Amapala (1895). Although Guatemala and Costa 
Rica considered joining the Greater Republic (which was rechristened 
"the United States of Central America" when its constitution went 
into effect in 1898), neither country joined. This union, which had 
planned to establish its capital city at Amapala on the Golfo de 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Fonseca, did not survive Regalado's seizure of power in El Sal- 
vador in 1898. Although the Central American spirit seemed will- 
ing, the commitment was weak. The notion of unification was 
another manifestation of the idealistic liberal ethos, and it proved 
durable and quite resistant to political realities. 

Economic Crisis and Repression 

The presidency of Pio Romero Bosque (1927-31) was a transi- 
tional period in Salvadoran history that ended the relatively stable 
functioning of the coffee republic and the liberal economic system 
that sustained it. The world depression of the 1930s, which precipi- 
tated a sharp fall in world coffee prices, hit hard in El Salvador. 
The loss of income reverberated throughout the society; as always, 
those on the lower end of the economic scale felt the deprivation 
most keenly, as wages were reduced and employment levels cut 
back. The government first responded with limited reform to ease 
this situation and the popular unrest it produced. The subsequent 
response was brutal repression. 

President Romero was the designated successor of President 
Quinonez, who apparently expected Don Pio, as he came to be 
known, to carry on the noninterventionist political tradition of his 
predecessors. Romero, however, for reasons of his own, decided 
to open up the Salvadoran system to a limited but still significant 
degree. He turned on Quinonez, exiling him from the country, 
and sought to exclude other members of the elite from the govern- 
ment. He is best remembered for allowing the presidential and 
municipal elections of 1931, the freest held in El Salvador up to 
that time. These elections still excluded any radical party that might 
have sought to overturn the existing governmental system; neverthe- 
less, they resulted in the election of Arturo Araujo, who enjoyed 
a mildly reformist reputation despite his oligarchic family back- 

Araujo assumed the presidency at a time of severe economic cri- 
sis. Between 1928 and 1931, the coffee export price had dropped 
by 54 percent. The wages paid agricultural workers were cut by 
an equal or greater extent. Food supplies, dependent on imports 
because of the crowding out of subsistence cultivation by coffee 
production, likewise fell sharply. Privation among the rural labor 
force, long a tolerated fact of life, sank to previously unknown 
depths. Desperate campesinos began to listen more attentively to 
the exhortations of radicals such as Agustin Farabundo Marti. 

Marti came from a relatively well-to-do landowning family. He 
was educated at the University of El Salvador (commonly referred 
to as the National University), where his political attitudes were 


Historical Setting 

influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and other communist the- 
orists. He was an original member of the Central American Socialist 
Party (founded in Guatemala in 1925) and a propagandist for the 
Regional Federation of Salvadoran Workers. He also spent a few 
months in Nicaragua with that country's noted guerrilla leader, 
Augusto Cesar Sandino. Marti and Sandino parted ways over the 
Nicaraguan's refusal to add Marxist flourishes to his nationalistic 
battle against a United States occupation force. Jailed or expelled 
several times by Salvadoran authorities, Marti kept up his efforts 
to organize popular rebellion against the government with the goal 
of establishing a communist system in its place. The widespread 
discontent provoked by the coffee crisis brought ever-increasing 
numbers of Salvadorans under the banner of such Marxist organi- 
zations as the Communist Party of El Salvador (Partido Comunista 
de El Salvador — PCES), the Anti-Imperialist League, and the Red 
Aid International (Socorro Rojo Internacional — SRI). Marti was 
the Salvadoran representative of the SRI, which was closely as- 
sociated with the other two groups. 

Most dissatisfied Salvadorans were driven more by hunger and 
frustration than by ideology. Araujo, a product of the economic 
elite, was burdened by loyalty to his class, by the unyielding op- 
position of that class to political reform, by the increasing polari- 
zation between the elite and the masses, and by the suspicions of 
the military. Araujo's initial response to popular unrest, perhaps 
a conditioned one, was to quell disturbances by force. When demon- 
strations persisted, the president decided to offer a concession in- 
stead of a club. He scheduled municipal elections for December 
1931 ; furthermore, he offered the unprecedented gesture of allow- 
ing the PCES to participate in those elections. 

In the tense political atmosphere of the time, this last conces- 
sion aroused both the landholding elite and, more important, the 
military. A December coup staged against Araujo drew support 
from a large number of military officers, who cited Araujo's inep- 
titude to justify their action. This rationalization did not match 
the portentous significance of the event, however. The 1931 coup 
represented the first instance when the Salvadoran military took 
direct action as an institution to curtail a potential political drift 
to the left. This watershed event ushered in a period of direct and 
indirect military rule that would last for fifty years. 

The rebellious officers shortly installed as the country's leader 
General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (known in El Salva- 
dor by his matronymic, Martinez), who had been Araujo's vice 
president and minister of war. Surprisingly, Martinez allowed the 
promised elections to take place only a month later than originally 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

scheduled, and with the participation of the PCES. The general's 
motivations in this regard, however, seem to have run more toward 
drawing his enemy into the open than toward the furthering of 
democratic government, for the communist candidates who won 
municipal offices in the western part of the country subsequently 
were barred from assuming those offices. 

The denial of the municipal posts has been cited as the catalyst 
for the launching of a rural insurrection that had been in the plan- 
ning stages for some time. Unfortunately for the rebels, the mili- 
tary obtained advance warning of their intentions. Marti and other 
rebel leaders were arrested on January 18, 1932. Confusion and 
poor communications led the insurgents to go ahead with their 
action as planned four days later. The rebels succeeded in captur- 
ing government buildings in the towns of Izalco, Sonzacate, 
Nahuizalco, Juayua, and Tacuba. They were repulsed by the local 
garrisons in Sonsonate, Santa Tecla, and Ahuachapan. Even the 
small successes of the insurgents were short lived, however, as GN 
and army units were dispatched to relieve local forces or to retake 
areas held by the rebels. Less than seventy- two hours after the ini- 
tial uprising, the government was again firmly in control. It was 
then that reprisals began. 

The military's action would come to be known as la matanza. 
Some estimates of the total number of campesinos killed run as 
high as 30,000. Although the true number never will be known, 
historian Alastair White has cited 15,000 to 20,000 as the best ap- 
proximation. No matter what figure one accepts, the reprisals were 
highly disproportionate to the effects of the communist-inspired in- 
surgency, which produced no more than thirty civilian fatalities. 
The widespread executions of campesinos, mainly Indians, appar- 
ently were intended to demonstrate to the rural population that 
the military was now in control in El Salvador and that it would 
brook no challenges to its rule or to the prevailing system. That 
blunt message was received, much as it had been after the failure 
of Aquino's rebellion a century earlier. The memory of la matanza 
would linger over Salvadoran political life for decades, deterring 
dissent and maintaining a sort of coerced conformity. 

Repression and Reform under Military Rule 

The assumption of power by Martinez initiated an extended 
period of rule by a military institution that continued to struggle 
with its own conception of its role as director of the country's 
political process. Older, more conservative officers were pushed 
by their younger subordinates to loosen up the system and insti- 
tute at least some limited reforms in order to minimize the likelihood 


Historical Setting 

of another violent disruption like that of 1932. The notion of guided 
reform, instituted and controlled from above, generally came to 
be accepted as the best course for the military to steer between the 
twin shoals of heavy-handed repression and radical revolution. That 
is not to say, however, that repression was abandoned as a tool 
of political control. In fact, it alternated with guided reform de- 
pending on the prevailing socioeconomic pressures of the time. This 
process of limited liberalization combined with firm control charac- 
terized the political order of El Salvador for some five decades. 

The first of many military presidents to come, Martinez was an 
autocrat who enjoyed the longest tenure in office of any Salva- 
doran president. His anticommunist fervor, so amply demonstrated 
by la matanza, has made him an enduring hero of the political right 
(a right-wing death squad of the 1970s would bear his name). His 
personal quirks are also legendary. A believer in spiritualism and 
other mystic creeds, he is most frequently remembered for having 
strung colored lights throughout San Salvador in an effort to ward 
off a smallpox epidemic. 

Martinez was confirmed as president by the legislature in 1932. 
He was elected to a four-year term of office in 1935 and a six-year 
term in 1939. Although it was marked by institutionalized repres- 
sion of dissent, Martinez's tenure was not altogether a negative 
period for the country. It provided a stability and continuity that 
contributed to a general improvement in the national economy. 
Like other Salvadoran presidents before him, Martinez did not in- 
terfere greatly with the elite-dominated economic system. He did, 
however, make some minor concessions to the poor, establishing 
a government welfare institution known as Social Improvement 
(Mejoramiento Social), continuing a very limited land redistribu- 
tion program begun under Araujo, and attempting to protect the 
domestic handicraft industry. Although he was personally drawn 
to the fascist movements in Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany, 
Martinez committed El Salvador to the Allied effort during World 
War II . This pragmatic move apparently bought El Salvador a fair 
amount of goodwill in Washington. Despite the length of his rule, 
relations between the general and the oligarchy were uneasy, in 
part because of Martinez's humble origins, but also because of his 
personal eccentricities and the unpredictability that they seemed 
to reflect. This vague distrust of Martinez was transformed into 
active elite opposition by his decision in 1943 to raise more revenue 
through an increase in the export tax. 

The last straw for the general's detractors was his effort to ex- 
tend his term beyond 1944 by means of legislative fiat rather than 
direct election. The coalition that united in support of his overthrow 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

was a somewhat eclectic one: civilian politicians, pro- Axis military 
officers, businessmen and bankers (who objected to the govern- 
ment's limited economic restrictions), and irate coffee producers. 
An initial attempt to oust Martinez by force was unsuccessful, but 
subsequent unrest in the capital, including a general strike, moved 
him to resign his office in May 1944. His successor, General Andres 
Ignacio Menendez, called for political liberalization and free elec- 
tions; the sincerity of his appeal was never tested, however, as he 
was turned out of office by the military in October. 

Menendez 's replacement was Colonel Osmfn Aguirre y Salinas, 
the director of the PN and a former follower of the deposed Marti- 
nez. The Aguirre regime went ahead with elections scheduled for 
January 1945 but manipulated the results to ensure the victory of 
its candidate, General Salvador Castaneda Castro. 

Castaneda's rule was unremarkable. The events of 1944 had left 
the country in an unresolved state of political uncertainty. Fear- 
ing some action against him and his conservative followers, 
Castaneda sought to weed out young reform-minded officers by 
dispatching them abroad for training. This sector of the officer 
corps, however, was substantial, and its members could not be ex- 
cluded indefinitely from the political process. They made their in- 
fluence felt in 1948, when Castaneda made his own attempt to 
extend his term in office by way of legislative maneuvering without 
recourse to the ballot box. The movement that ousted him from 
power on December 14, 1948, referred to itself as the Military Youth 
(Juventud Militar). For as long as its members exerted control in 
El Salvador, they would refer to their action as the Revolution of 

The coup leaders established a junta, which was referred to as 
the Revolutionary Council; it included three mid-level officers and 
two civilian professionals. The council ruled for some twenty-one 
months and guided the country toward comparatively open elec- 
tions in March 1950. During this period, it became clear that Major 
Oscar Osorio was the dominant force within the junta and among 
the officer corps. Osorio was so sure of his support that he resigned 
from the junta in order to run in the elections as the candidate of 
the Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unification (Partido Revolu- 
cionario de Unification Democratica — PRUD). 

Osorio eked out a victory over Colonel Jose Asencio Menendez 
of the Renovating Action Party (Partido Action Renovadora — 
PAR) and went on to establish the PRUD as a quasi-official party 
modeled roughly on the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido 
Revolucionario Institucional — PRI) of Mexico. Although the 
PRUD enjoyed some measure of support, it was never able to 


Revolution Monument, San Salvador 

replicate the broad base of the PRI, mainly because the process 
that produced the PRUD — the so-called Revolution of 1948 — was 
not itself a mass movement. 

The policies of Osorio and his successor, Lieutenant Colonel Jose 
Maria Lemus, were distinctly different from those of previous Sal- 
vadoran leaders. They emphasized economic development, pub- 
lic works, the diversification of agriculture, the establishment of 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

such programs as social security (including medical and hospital 
care), and improvements in sanitation and housing. Union organi- 
zation was encouraged, and collective bargaining was instituted. 
All this was accomplished within the boundaries of guided reform; 
no measures were taken that might have threatened the elite- 
dominated system (agrarian reform, for example, was never at- 
tempted), and radical elements were discouraged or eliminated 
through repressive means. 

The election of Lemus in 1956 did much to discourage the 
notion of possible political pluralism in El Salvador. As the candi- 
date of the PRUD, Lemus initially was challenged by the standard- 
bearers of three other ad hoc parties. The most popular of the three 
appeared to be Roberto Canessa^ a civilian who had served as 
Osorio's foreign minister. A month before the election, however, 
Canessa was disqualified by the government-controlled Central 
Electoral Council on a technicality. Another opposition candidate 
was barred from the race because of allegations of fiscal impropri- 
ety during his tenure as ambassador to Guatemala. Although the 
opposition attempted to unite behind the remaining candidate, 
Lemus topped the official election returns with an improbable 93 
percent of the vote. 

Perhaps in an effort to make amends for the means by which 
he came to office, Lemus initially took some conciliatory steps, such 
as declaring a general amnesty for political prisoners and exiles, 
voiding a number of repressive laws left over from previous re- 
gimes, and selecting men of recognized probity and ability for his 
cabinet. The course of his administration, however, was dominated 
by economic events. A decline in the export prices of coffee and 
cotton and the resultant drop in income and revenue exposed the 
weakness of the PRUD's limited reforms. Heavy-handed political 
manipulations by the government and the party, in particular the 
approval of a new electoral law that all but precluded an effective 
opposition, exacerbated widespread dissatisfaction with the Lemus 
government. After 1959 the influence of what then appeared to 
be a popular, nationalistic revolutionary movement in Cuba was 
felt in El Salvador as it was throughout Latin America. Student 
groups were particularly inspired by the example of Fidel Castro 
Ruz and his revolutionaries. Public demonstrations in San Salvador 
called for Lemus' s removal and the imposition of a truly democratic 
system. The president responded by abandoning his earlier efforts 
at reform in favor of heightened repression. Free expression and 
assembly were banned, and political dissidents were detained arbi- 


Historical Setting 

This instability provoked concern among important political 
actors in El Salvador. For the elite, the government's emphasis 
on economic development was pointless under such a climate; the 
emerging middle class likewise felt a threat to its gains from the 
specter of revolution; and the military reacted almost reflexively 
to the spectacle of a president who had lost control. Lemus was 
deposed in a bloodless coup on October 26, 1960. 

Governmental authority again passed into the hands of a military- 
civilian junta. The ranking military representative was Lieutenant 
Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera. Aside from Rivera, the junta mem- 
ber who drew the most attention was Fabio Castillo, a university 
professor and known sympathizer with the Cuban Revolution. 
Castillo's presence, along with the renewed reformist policies of 
the junta, convinced the elite and the conservative military officers 
that the government was influenced by communism. Again, it was 
the military that acted to head off this perceived threat to stability. 
A coup by young officers overthrew the junta on January 25, 1961 . 
The officers affirmed their anticommunist and anti-Castro con- 
victions, retained Rivera as part of a new junta, and promised 

The Christian Democrats: A Centrist Alternative? 

The electoral preparations that had begun under the 1960 junta 
stimulated the mobilization of political parties of moderate and leftist 
inclinations. These opposition parties were unable to establish their 
organizations and followings sufficiently to present any effective 
challenge to the 1962 election of Rivera to the presidency. Rivera 
ran as the candidate of the National Conciliation Party (Partido 
de Conciliation Nacional — PCN), which would succeed the PRUD 
as the official party in El Salvador. The PCN began as a splinter 
group from the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Democrata 
Cristiano — PDC), which eventually became the leading opponent 
of the PCN and a major force for peaceful change in the Salva- 
doran system. 

The PDC had been founded in November 1960. The party grew 
out of informal meetings among middle- and upper-class activists 
who sought to devise a vehicle to represent their interests in the 
political arena. The concerns of the Salvadoran middle class by 
and large revolved around economic progress and political stabil- 
ity. It saw the prospects for both concerns threatened from the 
political right and from the left. The Salvadoran right stifled popular 
aspirations through its adamant opposition to reform and its sup- 
port for the elite-dominated economic system. The left promised 
to abandon the capitalist model that had created the middle class 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

in favor of a communistic system. Fidel Castro's communist lean- 
ings were confirmed in 1961 when he declared that he was, and 
had been since his student days, a Marxist- Leninist. From the per- 
spective of the PDC's founders, the only way to protect their gains 
and ensure their future and that of the middle-class sectors as a 
whole was to achieve representation within the governmental sys- 
tem. To reach this goal, they saw the need to follow a centrist path 
that would incorporate more Salvadorans into the political process 
without exerting undue pressure on the prevailing economic order. 

The ideologists of this new party, principally lawyers Abraham 
Rodriguez and Roberto Lara Velado, saw Christian democracy 
as the path they were seeking. The roots of Christian democratic 
ideology extended back as far as Pope Leo XIII' s encyclical Rerum 
Novarum (1891), which called on Christians to work for social and 
economic reform. Its more immediate influences, however, were 
found in the works of Pope John XXIII and the French philosopher 
Jacques Maritain. The Christian democratic movements in Chile 
and Venezuela also served as role models. The founders of the PDC, 
including the civil engineer Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes, em- 
phasized the ideological basis of the party — its support for reform, 
its call for the application of moral principles to political and eco- 
nomic life, and its rejection of extremist solutions such as those 
advocated by Marxism — as a new development in Salvadoran 
politics. This was true, but only to the extent that party members 
accepted that ideology and acted upon it. Duarte himself came to 
the PDC without a strong ideological grounding, but his belief in 
the possibility of peaceful democratic change, as well as his per- 
sonal magnetism, made up for that initial shortcoming. 

Duarte 's practical political skills eventually made him the PDC's 
leading figure. He was elected to the post of secretary general at 
the party's first convention in May 1961. At the time, his selec- 
tion was a victory for those party members who referred to them- 
selves as "purists," eschewing collaboration with nonelected 
governments. In order to legitimize its rule, the ruling junta had 
approached the PDC membership about participation in the govern- 
ment, and some early PDC adherents responded favorably to this 
idea. After Duarte 's election to party leadership, this collabora- 
tionist faction split off to form the PCN. Tied into the system, the 
PCN went on to sweep all the available seats in the December 1961 
Constituent Assembly (see Glossary) elections and to serve as the 
vehicle for Rivera's election to the presidency in April 1962. 

Rivera was a proponent of the sort of guided reforms initiated 
by the military's revolution of 1948. His developmentalist economic 
policies received a boost from the United States in the form of 


Historical Setting 

generous aid allocations under the banner of United States presi- 
dent John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress. Although he dis- 
cussed publicly the need for economic reforms, including agrarian 
reform, Rivera did nothing to further them. Perhaps his major con- 
tribution to Salvadoran political life was the decision to allow the 
participation of opposition parties through a liberalized electoral 
system that called for proportional representation in the country's 
Legislative Assembly. Previously, the party that won the most votes 
in each department (the equivalent of states under the Salvadoran 
system) was awarded all the legislative seats allocated to that depart- 
ment. The proportional allocation of seats based on each party's 
departmental electoral showing represented a significant step for- 
ward for the opposition, which obtained some voice in government 
even if it was still denied any real power. 

In March 1964, the first elections were held under the new sys- 
tem. Although the PCN retained an unchallenged majority in the 
Legislative Assembly, the PDC won fourteen seats in that body, 
along with thirty-seven mayoralties. Perhaps the most significant 
victory was Duarte's election as mayor of San Salvador. He built 
a strong base of popular support in this post through improvements 
in municipal services and the organization of local self-help groups 
to promote small-scale civic improvements such as school renova- 
tions, establishment and maintenance of parks, and adult educa- 
tion programs. He was reelected in 1966 and 1968. Leadership of 
the populous capital city heightened Duarte's political profile and 
made him a national figure. 

Strong economic growth in the early 1960s solidified the posi- 
tion of the PCN as the official party. The leadership of the party 
was drawn mainly from the ranks of middle-class professionals. It 
cannot be said to have represented the interests of that class, 
however. The most important constituency of the PCN was the 
military; without its support and cooperation, the party could not 
have governed. PCN governments protected the political power 
and social and economic perquisites that the officer corps had long 
enjoyed. They also preserved, at least for a time, the domestic sta- 
bility required for economic growth within the prevailing elite- 
dominated system. Like many other Latin American militaries, 
the Salvadoran armed forces saw the maintenance of the societal 
status quo as serving their best interests. The PCN shared this con- 
servative viewpoint and worked closely with the military leader- 
ship, seeking its advice and support on policy initiatives and political 
issues. In essence, under the PCN the military continued to rule 
El Salvador from behind the scenes. The electoral base of the PCN 
was found among the peasantry. Latin American peasants are on 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

the whole a politically conservative group; in rural El Salvador, 
this natural tendency was reinforced by the ubiquitous presence 
of the armed forces. 

The political perceptions of certain Salvadoran sectors, particu- 
larly agricultural and business interests, led them to oppose the 
PDC and favor the PCN. Although it was a moderate party by 
Latin American standards, the PDC was seen by the Salvadoran 
right as a dangerously left-wing organization. The Christian 
Democrats' occasional use of the words revolution or revolutionary to 
describe their vision of social reform invoked in the minds of large 
landowners and businessmen images of Castro's Cuba, a prospect 
they would go to any lengths to avoid in El Salvador. 

The leading contenders in the elections of 1967 were the PCN, 
the PDC, and the PAR. The PCN's candidate was Rivera's in- 
terior minister, Colonel Fidel Sanchez Hernandez. The PDC 
nominated Abraham Rodriguez, who proved to be a lackluster cam- 
paigner. The PAR had undergone an internal dispute that led its 
more conservative members to bolt and form a new party, the Sal- 
vadoran Popular Party (Partido Popular Salvadoreno — PPS). The 
PPS chose as its candidate a retired army major, Alvaro Marti- 
nez. The remaining leftist members of the PAR nominated Fabio 
Castillo, who had served on the 1960 junta. By the standards of 
the Salvadoran right, Castillo was a communist. 

The issue of the supposed communist nature of the PAR came 
to dominate the 1967 campaign. By election day, the PAR had 
been denied media access by broadcasters who either disagreed with 
the party's political line or feared some retaliation from the govern- 
ment if they granted air time to the PAR. The PDC condemned 
the red-baiting engaged in by Sanchez and the PCN, even though 
many Christian Democrats differed with some of the proposals made 
by Castillo, such as establishing relations with Cuba and broadening 
ties with other communist countries. In the balloting on March 
5 , the PAR actually garnered more votes in San Salvador than did 
the PDC, although the Christian Democrats had a better showing 
in rural areas than they had anticipated. All of this was academic 
in terms of the presidential race, however, since Sanchez won an 
absolute majority. In general terms, though, the 1967 elections 
demonstrated increased voter participation and a growing accep- 
tance of the political process as a legitimate means of popular ex- 

The 1969 War with Honduras 

Like many other conflicts in Salvadoran history, the 1969 war 
with Honduras, sometimes referred to as the Soccer War, was 


Historical Setting 

rooted in economic disparity. El Salvador is a small country with 
a large and rapidly growing population and a severely limited 
amount of available land. Honduras is a larger country with a 
smaller population and a less-developed economy. By 1969 some 
300,000 Salvadorans had drifted over the border and taken up resi- 
dence in more sparsely populated Honduras. The vast majority 
of these Salvadorans were squatters, technically illegal immigrants 
whose sole claim to the land they worked was their physical presence 
on it. For Hondurans, the land itself was not so much the issue. 
What rankled them was the image of being pushed and potentially 
enveloped by the Salvadorans. Throughout the 1960s, the mecha- 
nisms of the Central American Common Market (see Glossary) 
worked to the advantage of the more developed economies of the 
region, particularly those of Guatemala and El Salvador. The 
growth of Salvadoran-owned businesses in Honduras — shoe stores 
were the most visible of these enterprises — underscored for Hon- 
durans the relative economic disparity between the two countries. 
The issue of the Salvadoran squatters, despite its lack of real eco- 
nomic significance, became a nationalistic sore point for Honduras, 
a question of adding territorial insult to perceived economic injury. 

The border situation became increasingly tense during the two 
years preceding the outbreak of hostilities. In early 1969, the regime 
of Honduran president Oswaldo Lopez Arellano (1963-71) invoked 
a dormant agrarian reform law as a pretext to evict Salvadoran 
squatters and expel them from the country. The Lopez govern- 
ment was experiencing economic and political difficulties and saw 
the Salvadorans as convenient scapegoats. Stories and images of 
displaced refugees filled the Salvadoran press and the airwaves. 
Tales of violent displacement by the Honduran military began to 
circulate throughout El Salvador. Tension between the two coun- 
tries continued to build. The incident that provoked active hostili- 
ties — and lent the conflict its popular designation as the Soccer 
War — took place in San Salvador in June 1969. During and after 
a soccer match between the Honduran and Salvadoran national 
teams, the Honduran team members were vilified and harassed 
by Salvadoran fans. The reportage of this incident brought mat- 
ters to a fever pitch. 

Beyond national pride and jingoism — which was expressed by 
Duarte and the PDC with a fervor equal to that of Sanchez and 
the PCN — the Salvadorans had other motivations for launching 
a military strike against Honduras on July 14, 1969. The influx 
of displaced Salvadoran squatters was placing a burden on ser- 
vices and threatening to provoke widespread social unrest. The sit- 
uation was undermining the political support of the Sanchez 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

government; action against Honduras became the most expedient 
option to turn this situation around. Although war with Honduras 
almost certainly would lead to the breakdown of the CACM, the 
Salvadorans were willing to pay that price. In their estimation, the 
CACM was already close to a breakdown over the issues of com- 
parative advantage; war with Honduras would only hasten that 

The actual fighting was brief. Despite early Salvadoran air strikes, 
the Hondurans eventually dominated in that area, destroying most 
of the Salvadoran Air Force. The Salvadoran Army, however, 
clearly bested the Hondurans on the ground. The Salvadorans 
pushed rapidly into Honduran territory before fuel and ammuni- 
tion shortages and diplomatic efforts by representatives of the 
Organization of American States (OAS) curtailed their progress. 
As many as 2,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed in the action. 

The war had a number of immediate repercussions. The Sal- 
vadorans had expended large quantities of ordnance, necessitat- 
ing heavy military expenditures to replenish depleted stocks. Trade 
between the two countries was disrupted completely, and the 
CACM ceased to function as anything more than a paper entity. 
El Salvador lost the economic "safety valve" formerly provided 
by illegal emigration to Honduras; land-based pressures again began 
to build. Although the vast majority of Salvadorans, including all 
the legal political parties, had united in support of the war, this 
unity did not last long. 

Dashed Hopes: The 1972 Elections 

In the wake of the Soccer War, the PDC sought to turn the issue 
of unequal land distribution to its political advantage. The war had 
not only highlighted this issue, it had exacerbated it. Returning 
refugees were unable to resume the kind of farming they had prac- 
ticed in Honduras; their employment opportunities as coffee 
laborers, always limited and seasonal in nature, were restricted still 
further by the scale of the war-induced influx. Pressure intensified 
for some kind of land reform. 

The PDC was the first political party to drop out of the so-called 
National Unity Front that had been formed to support the war ef- 
fort against Honduras. Party spokesmen began to push the issue 
of full agrarian reform, including credit and technical assistance, 
as a major platform plank for the 1972 presidential elections. The 
thinking of the Christian Democrats on this question was as much 
practical as idealistic. Agrarian reform was not just a popular rally- 
ing point for them; it was also seen as a way to establish a new 
class of small- to medium- sized landholders who would presumably 


Historical Setting 

demonstrate some loyalty to the party and government that granted 
them that status. This was a common strategy for Latin American 
Christian democratic parties, in keeping with their advocacy of free- 
enterprise reformism. 

The Legislative Assembly provided a tangible demonstration of 
the appeal of agrarian reform in January 1970 when it convened 
the National Agrarian Reform Congress in San Salvador. The con- 
gress included representatives from the government, the opposition, 
labor, and business groups. Its convocation was an unprecedented 
event in Salvadoran history, even though it was charged only with 
making recommendations, not policy. Moreover, those recommen- 
dations turned out to be, by Salvadoran standards, revolutionary. 
They included a call for massive land expropriation by the govern- 
ment in order to achieve a more equitable and productive distri- 
bution of national resources. The delegates judged that landholdings 
above a certain size could be characterized as fulfilling no legiti- 
mate "social function" and were thus legally liable to expropria- 
tion under the constitution. This call for expropriation actually 
exceeded what had been called for in the PDC's reform program. 
By agreeing to the resolutions of the congress, however, the PDC 
effectively incorporated expropriation into its political agenda. By 
so doing, it provoked further misgivings among the elite and 
conservative sectors of the military with regard to the party's in- 
tentions should it achieve power. 

The legislative and municipal elections of March 1970 were dis- 
couraging for the PDC, as it dropped three seats in the Legislative 
Assembly and lost control of seventy municipalities. Electoral fraud 
was alleged against the PCN by the PDC and other opposition par- 
ties, but fraud never was proved. Nevertheless, the Christian 
Democrats confidently looked toward the 1972 presidential ballot- 
ing. Duarte, the party's most popular figure, had agreed to resign 
the mayoralty of San Salvador and head the national ticket. Despite 
the 1970 results, there were signs of weakening popular support 
for the PCN stemming from economic decline. Agrarian reform 
provided a strong issue for a national campaign. One problem that 
confronted the PDC was internal in nature and concerned a dis- 
pute over tactics. One faction of the party advocated a direct or- 
ganizational challenge to the PCN in its rural strongholds, whereas 
another faction stressed the need to radicalize PDC doctrine and 
programs in an effort to draw a sharper contrast between it and 
the ruling party. Duarte, not wishing to become embroiled in this 
potentially divisive debate, resigned as party secretary general and 
generally sought to remain above the fray. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The 1972 elections took place in an uneasy political atmosphere. 
The 1970 election of socialist Salvador Allende Gossens as presi- 
dent of Chile had resurrected anxieties over communist gains in 
Latin America. This concern was shared not only by the political 
right and the military but also by the majority of Christian 
Democrats. In El Salvador, organizational efforts by leftist parties 
such as the PCES and by activist Roman Catholic clergy were 
viewed with alarm by conservative sectors. The fears of the eco- 
nomic elite in particular were provoked by the 1971 kidnapping 
and murder of Ernesto Regalado Duefias, the son of a prominent 
family, by a leftist terrorist organization calling itself ' ' the Group" 
(see Left- Wing Extremism, ch. 5). A protracted teachers' strike 
in 1971 only added to the unsettied climate prevailing in the country. 

The PDC opted to participate in the elections as the leading party 
of a coalition designated the United National Opposition (Union 
Nacional Opositora — UNO). The other members of the coalition 
were smaller and more radical than the PDC . The National Revolu- 
tionary Movement (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario — MNR) 
was originally a social democratic party. The MNR was pushed 
farther to the left, however, as former PAR supporters joined its 
ranks after their party was legally proscribed in 1967. The National 
Democratic Union (Union Democratica Nacional — UDN) was an 
even smaller grouping that had once described itself as the party 
of the noncommunist left in El Salvador. By this time, however, 
the UDN had been infiltrated by the PCES and was functioning 
as a communist front group. Despite the leftist leanings of the MNR 
and UDN and the lingering effect of the agrarian reform congress, 
the UNO platform was moderate in tone, calling for measured re- 
form, respect for private property, and the protection of private 
investment. As expected, Duarte was tapped as the presidential 
candidate. He in turn chose the MNR's Guillermo Manuel Ungo 
Revelo as his running mate. 

President Sanchez chose Colonel Arturo Armando Molina as 
the PCN candidate. The PPS also entered the contest, led by Jose 
Antonio Rodriguez Porth. A small PCN splinter party calling it- 
self the United Democratic Independent Front, funded by some 
leading oligarchic families, rounded out the field. The campaign 
was a violent and dangerous one for the opposition. UNO's lead- 
ers decried numerous incidents of harassment, kidnapping, and 
assault against their activists. The leading perpetrators of these ac- 
tions, according to the opposition, were troops of the GN. Further 
roadblocks were thrown in the way of UNO by the PCN-controlled 
Central Electoral Council, which disqualified the opposition 
coalition's candidate slates for the Legislative Assembly in the 


Historical Setting 

departments of San Salvador, San Miguel, Usulutan, Sonsonate, 
La Union, and San Vicente. 

The actual vote count in the presidential balloting of February 20, 
1972, probably will never be known. As expected, Duarte ran 
strongly in San Salvador, offsetting the traditional PCN advan- 
tage in the countryside. Poll watchers for UNO claimed that the 
final tally nationwide was 327,000 for Duarte and 318,000 for 
Molina. Tabulations were suspended by the government, however, 
and a recount was initiated. The official results of that count placed 
Molina ahead of Duarte by 10,000 votes. The selection of the presi- 
dent thus was relegated to the assembly, where the PCN majority 
affirmed Molina's tainted victory after a walkout by opposition 
deputies. An appeal by Duarte and Ungo for new balloting was 
denied by the Central Electoral Council. 

The blatancy of the fraud employed to maintain the PCN in 
power outraged and disillusioned many Salvadorans, including 
members of the armed forces. One faction of the officer corps, a 
new Military Youth, attempted to take direct action to redress the 
official exploitation of a system that had until that point shown 
some promise of evolving in a genuinely democratic direction. This 
group of young army officers, led by Colonel Benjamin Mejia, 
launched a coup on March 25, 1972. Their immediate goal was 
the establishment of a "revolutionary junta. " It seemed clear, 
however, that the officers favored the installation of Duarte as 

Mejia and his followers initiated their action by seizing the 
presidential residence and taking Sanchez and some of his family 
members hostage. From that point on, however, events ran against 
the insurgents. The thunder of aerial bombing over the capital soon 
announced the loyalty of the air force to the government. The coup 
attempt never gained the support of more than a minority within 
the officer corps, and that only in the army. Some residents of the 
capital took to the streets in support of the young officers, but they 
were no match for the loyalist military forces. In desperation, Mejia 
turned to Duarte, urging him to deliver a radio address in support 
of the rebels. Despite some misgivings, Duarte agreed. His address 
was broadcast shortly after noon and may have saved some lives 
by warning civilians to evacuate areas targeted for rebel artillery 
strikes. Its overall impact, however, was insufficient to reverse the 
tide of action in the streets. Loyalist forces regained effective con- 
trol of San Salvador by early that evening. 

Like many other government opponents, Duarte sought refuge 
within the foreign diplomatic community. He was taken in by the 
first secretary of the Venezuelan embassy but was soon tracked 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

down by government security forces, who broke into the diplomat's 
house and dragged Duarte away amidst kicks and blows from rifle 
butts. The Christian democratic leader was detained briefly, beaten, 
and interrogated, then dispatched to Guatemala. From there, he 
flew to exile in Venezuela. He left behind a country where aspira- 
tions for change had been dashed and where repression was once 
again the official antidote to dissent. 

The 1970s: The Road to Revolt 

The government of President Molina attempted to exert old- 
fashioned coercive control over the country, using a relatively new 
instrument, a peasant organization known as the Nationalist 
Democratic Organization (Organizacion Democratica Nacio- 
nalista — Orden). Orden was established partially in secret in the 
early 1960s by then President Rivera and General Jose Alberto 
"Chele" Medrano in association with the GN, which provided 
some level of counterinsurgent training to peasant cells through- 
out the countryside. The counterinsurgent orientation of Orden 
was in keeping with the anticommunist tenor of the times and the 
general intent of military training and assistance provided to the 
armed forces of the region by the United States. Orden, however, 
never became a military force per se but functioned as a paramili- 
tary adjunct and an important part of the rural intelligence network 
for the security forces. By the late 1970s, its membership report- 
edly totaled 100,000. 

While Orden served as the eyes and ears of the security forces 
in rural areas, the military was confronted with a growing new 
phenomenon in the urban setting, that of left-wing terrorism. Soon 
after the failed coup attempt of 1972, kidnappings for ransom and 
hit-and-run attacks on government buildings and other targets be- 
came increasingly common in San Salvador. The groups claiming 
credit for the majority of these actions were the People's Revolu- 
tionary Army (Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo — ERP) and the 
Farabundo Marti Popular Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Populares 
de Liberacion Farabundo Marti — FPL), both radical offshoots of 
the PCES (the ERP was the new designation of "the Group" that 
had killed Regalado in 1971). 

In 1969 the initial split took place between the followers of party 
leader Salvador Cayetano Carpio ("Marcial"), a Maoist advocate 
of a revolutionary "prolonged popular war" strategy for achiev- 
ing power, and those of Jorge Shafik Handal, who held to the 
prevailing Moscow-line strategy of electoral participation. By 
the end of the 1970s, however, political violence and instability 
had increased markedly, strengthening the position of those who 


Historical Setting 

advocated a violent path to power. The success of the 1979 
Nicaraguan revolution led by the Marxist Sandinista National 
Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional — 
FSLN) apparently served to alter the thinking of policymakers in 
the Soviet Union, leading them to endorse the strategy of "armed 
struggle" long advocated by Cuba. By the end of the decade, no 
less than five Marxist guerrilla groups, including one directly af- 
filiated with the PCES, were recruiting members for military and 
terrorist action against the government (see Left- Wing Extremism, 
ch. 5). 

Popular support for radical leftist groups appeared to expand 
rapidly in El Salvador in the mid-1970s, although the ideological 
uniformity of that support was suspect. The vehicles for the mobili- 
zation of the "masses" behind a revolutionary program of radical 
reform were the so-called mass organizations (also known as popular 
organizations). Established and run clandestinely by the guerrilla 
groups, these organizations drew much of their leadership from 
radical Roman Catholic groups known as Christian Base Commu- 
nities (Comunidades Eclesiasticas de Base — CEBs) that had been 
established by activist clergy throughout the country. The largest 
of the mass organizations was the FPL-affiliated Revolutionary 
Popular Bloc (Bloque Popular Revolucionario — BPR), with nine 
constituent peasant groups and an estimated 60,000 members. 
Other mass organizations included urban trade unions among their 
ranks. Through public demonstrations, strikes, seizures of build- 
ings, and propaganda campaigns, these organizations sought to 
undermine the government and create conditions conducive to a 
revolutionary assumption of power by the left. 

Right-wing reaction to the rise of the radical left took several 
forms. The Molina government made a belated and feeble attempt 
to appease rural demands for land by passing a law in 1974 calling 
for the forced rental or possible expropriation of unexploited or 
inefficiently used land, but the law was not enforced. The govern- 
ment, however, took another step toward reform in 1976, when 
it declared an agrarian transformation zone of some 60,000 hect- 
ares in San Miguel and Usulutan departments that was to be di- 
vided among 12,000 peasant families. Large landowners, incensed 
by this prospect, sent a delegation to meet with the president, who 
subsequently agreed to exempt from redistribution all lands ful- 
filling a "social function." This euphemism effectively encompassed 
all the land in question, and the redistribution never was effected. 

Although efforts at small-scale reform were unsuccessful in the 
1970s, the other side of the reform-repression coin was much in 
evidence. A new development was the rise in nonofficial repression 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

from the shadowy right-wing bands that came to be known as the 
"death squads." Apparently bankrolled by the oligarchy and draw- 
ing on active-duty and former military personnel for their mem- 
bers, the squads assassinated "subversives" in an effort to 
discourage further antigovernment activities and to deter poten- 
tial expansion of the ranks of the mass organizations and other pro- 
test groups. From the perspective of the Salvadoran right, the most 
urgent threat emanated from the CEBs, which by the mid-1970s 
had incorporated large numbers of people into politicized Bible 
study and self-help groups. The death squads targeted both reli- 
gious and lay members of these groups. 

The first of the squads to make itself known publicly was the 
Wars of Elimination Anti-Communist Liberation Armed Forces 
(Fuerzas Armadas de Liberation Anti-comunista de Guerras de 
Elimination — FALANGE), a title obviously concocted more for 
its acronym than for its coherence. Others, such as the White War- 
riors Union (Union de Guerreros Blancos — UGB), would follow. 
These organizations found their inspiration in the severe anticom- 
munist tactics of the military regimes in Guatemala (many Sal- 
vadoran death squad members had direct ties to the Guatemalan 
right) and Brazil. The example of extreme military reprisals against 
the left in Chile after the 1973 coup against Allende also was in- 

Official repression also prevailed during the 1970s. Crowds of 
antigovernment demonstrators that had assembled in the capital 
were fired on by the military in July 1975 and February 1977. The 
passage of the Law for the Defense and Guarantee of Public Order 
in November 1977 eliminated almost all legal restrictions on vio- 
lence against civilians. Political scientist Enrique A. Baloyra has 
compiled statistics for the 1972-79 period showing a tenfold in- 
crease in political assassinations, a tripling in the prosecution of 
"subversives," and a doubling in the number of "disappeared." 

The government's record in the electoral arena was equally dis- 
couraging for the opposition. The UNO coalition participated in 
the Legislative Assembly and municipal elections of 1974. Duarte 
even managed to slip back into the country to campaign briefly 
on behalf of coalition candidates. His efforts were wasted, though, 
as the balloting was manipulated even more flagrantly than that 
of 1972. In 1976 the opposition parties decided that electoral par- 
ticipation was pointless and declined to run candidates. Presiden- 
tial elections in 1977 were too important to pass up, however. The 
atmosphere was too volatile to allow another run by Duarte, so 
UNO nominated retired Colonel Ernesto Claramount Rozeville 
to head its ticket. He was opposed by the official PCN candidate, 


Historical Setting 

General Carlos Humberto Romero Mena. Once again, electoral 
fraud was clumsy and poorly disguised. Claramount, his running 
mate Jose Antonio Morales Ehrlich, and a crowd of thousands 
gathered in the Plaza Libertad in San Salvador to protest Romero's 
election. Their assembly was the occasion for the February 1977 
attack that left as many as fifty protesters dead. As he was taken 
from the scene in a Red Cross ambulance, Claramount declared, 
"This is not the end. It is only the beginning." 

The Reformist Coup of 1979 

The tenure of President Romero was characterized by the aban- 
donment of any official pretense of reform and a precipitous rise 
in politically motivated violence. The leftist guerrilla groups stepped 
up their operations — assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings — 
as a form of self-defense, as retaliation against government forces, 
and as part of a larger strategy of impelling the country further 
toward political anarchy, a state perceived by the left as one of the 
"objective conditions" necessary for a broad-based antigovernment 
insurrection. This process of extreme polarization alarmed those 
political actors who saw the old system of domination by the mili- 
tary and the elite as no longer workable, but who feared the con- 
sequences of a successful communist-led revolt. This loose coali- 
tion included young military officers, Christian democratic and 
social democratic politicians, and more progressive Salvadoran in- 

Many of these groups, with the exception of private sector 
representatives, came together in August 1979 to establish a polit- 
ical pressure group known as the Popular Forum (Foro Popular). 
The Popular Forum issued a call for an end to official and unoffi- 
cial repression, the establishment of political pluralism, short-term 
and long-term economic reforms (including agrarian reform), and 
the incorporation of the mass organizations into the government. 
This last demand, coupled with the participation in the Popular 
Forum of the 28 of February Popular Leagues (Ligas Populares 
28 febrero — LP-28), the most radical of the mass organizations 
(it was affiliated with the ERP), convinced many young military 
officers that some action was necessary to head off a leftist politi- 
cal victory in El Salvador. The government of Anastasio Somoza 
Debayle in Nicaragua had fallen only the month before, and, from 
the point of view of the Salvadoran military, the Popular Forum 
bore a suspicious resemblance to the Broad Opposition Front that 
had brought the FSLN to power in that country. Although the final 
form and nature of the new Nicaraguan government was not yet 
in evidence, the dissolution of Somoza' s National Guard was seen 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

in El Salvador as a precedent and a direct threat to the military 

Thus, in a climate of extreme violence, sharp political polariza- 
tion, and potential revolution, yet another generation of young 
officers staged a coup in an effort to restore order and address popu- 
lar frustrations. This new Military Youth deposed President 
Romero on October 15, 1979, issuing a proclamation decrying the 
violent, corrupt, and exclusionary nature of the regime. Beyond 
their concern with preventing "another Nicaragua," the young 
officers also were motivated by a desire to address the country's 
critical economic situation. Their vague aspirations in this regard 
apparently revolved around the achievement of an acceptable level 
of political stability that would staunch the flight of capital out of 
the country and restore to some degree the smooth functioning of 
the economy. In this regard, the 1979 coup resembled those of 1948 
and 1960. Where it differed, however, was in the realization that 
effective and radical (by Salvadoran standards) reforms would have 
to be included in their program even at the risk of alienating the 
economic elite. 

The first junta established by the coup leaders included the officer 
who headed the reformist faction within the officer corps, Colonel 
Adolfo Arnoldo Majano Ramos, along with another officer of more 
uncertain political inclinations, Colonel Jaime Abdul Gutierrez. 
The other junta members were Ungo from the MNR, Roman 
Mayorga (a former president of the Jesuit-run Central American 
University Jose Simeon Canas), and Mario Andino, a represen- 
tative of the private sector. This junta wasted little time in announc- 
ing and attempting to implement a reformist program. It enacted 
decrees to freeze landholdings over ninety-eight hectares and to 
nationalize the coffee export trade. It did not move immediately 
to effect agrarian reform, but it promised that such a reform would 
be forthcoming. Another decree officially disbanded Orden. The 
implementation of that decree, like that of many others during the 
period of the reformist juntas, was hampered seriously by the limited 
influence of the reformist faction over the more conservative secu- 
rity force apparatus. Perhaps the best indication of this limitation 
was the fact that the level of violence carried out by the security 
forces against members of the mass organizations increased after 
the installation of the junta. 

The upswing in repression against the left reflected not only the 
resistance of conservative military and security force commanders 
but also the outrage expressed by elite landowners and the major- 
ity of the private sector over the reform decrees and the prospect 
of even more wide-ranging actions to come. Some observers have 


Historical Setting 

alleged that the campaign of terror waged by the death squads was 
organized and coordinated by conservative officers under the leader- 
ship of Major Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta, a member of the coun- 
try's executive intelligence agency, with the financial backing of 
the oligarchy. Although the evidence for this sort of sweeping con- 
spiratorial concept is inconclusive, the existence of ties between the 
economic elite and security force personnel seems undeniable. 

The military's reaction in general to the junta's reformism was 
mixed. The reformists sought to incorporate new sectors into the 
political system but stopped short of including the mass organiza- 
tions in that effort because of the radical ties of those organiza- 
tions. Conservative officers, led by the defense minister, Colonel 
Guillermo Garcia, saw the reformists as playing into the hands of 
the left, weakening the military institution, and increasing the likeli- 
hood of a seizure of power by "extremist" elements. Garcia, abetted 
by Gutierrez, worked to undermine the reformists by excluding 
Majano's followers from key commands and positions through 
transfer or denial of promotion. The majority of Salvadoran officers 
seemed to fall into neither the reformist nor the conservative camp. 
Although they shared a generalized anticommunism and a strong 
commitment to the military institution, they were not sufficiently 
convinced that the kind of radical reform advocated by the junta 
was necessary. They opted for a sort of concerned neutrality and 
inaction that ultimately worked in favor of the aggressive conser- 
vative faction. 

The first reformist junta eventually failed because of its inabil- 
ity to curb the increasing violence against the left. It was replaced 
on January 10, 1980, by a second junta. Majano and Gutierrez 
remained as the military representatives, but the civilian members 
now included two prominent Christian Democrats — the party's 
1977 vice presidential candidate, Morales, and Hector Dada. Jose 
Avalos was the third civilian, replacing Andino, whose departure 
left the government without significant ties to the private sector. 
Direct participation in the government by the Christian Democrats 
was by no means universally accepted among the party member- 
ship. It was viewed as a bad precedent by those who still clung 
idealistically to their commitment to the democratic process. 
Moreover, the actual commitment of the government to effective 
reform was still questioned by the more progressive members of 
the party. On a practical political level, some felt that casting the 
lot of the PDC with that of the junta represented too great a risk 
of the party's prestige (admittedly somewhat eroded at that point 
anyway) for too little possible gain. On the other side of the ledger, 
however, proponents of participation (including Duarte, who had 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

by this time returned from Venezuela) saw it as an opportunity 
to effect the kind of reforms that the party had long advocated, 
to establish a political center in El Salvador, and to make a transi- 
tion to a genuinely democratic system. 

The second junta was dogged by the human rights issue no less 
than its predecessor. The continued high level of political violence 
was attributable not only to the actions of the death squads and 
the security forces but also to the decision by the left to shun cooper- 
ation with the junta in favor of a call for armed insurrection. The 
three major mass organizations, along with the UDN, issued such 
a call on January 11, 1980. They established an umbrella front 
designated the National Coordinator, subsequently amended to 
Revolutionary Coordinator of the Masses (Coordinadora Revolu- 
cionaria de las Masas — CRM), to advance "the struggle." The 
MNR endorsed the manifesto of the CRM, further undermining 
the legitimacy of the junta government. The heightened militancy 
of the CRM was manifested in stepped-up demonstrations, occu- 
pations of churches and buildings, and strikes. On January 22, a 
mass rally held in San Salvador was fired on by the police, and 
twenty-four demonstrators were killed. On February 25, PDC 
activist Mario Zamora and others were murdered, apparently 
because they had been denounced publicly as subversives by 
now ex-Major D'Aubuisson. Zamora' s killing led directly to the 
resignation of his brother, Ruben, from the government. Ruben 
Zamora established his own political party, the Popular Social Chris- 
tian Movement (Movimiento Popular Social Cristiano — MPSC), 
taking a number of other disillusioned Christian Democrats with 
him. Reflecting the intense renewed debate within the PDC over 
participation in the government, Dada resigned from the junta. 
His place was taken in a third junta by Duarte, who finally de- 
cided to take a direct role in the process that he had supported previ- 
ously from behind the scenes. 

In an effort to display its commitment to change and to exert 
its authority within the country, the third junta decreed the most 
sweeping reforms enacted to that time, expropriating landholdings 
above 500 hectares and nationalizing commercial banks and sav- 
ings and loan institutions. At the same time, it declared a state 
of siege in an apparent effort to back up its reforms with a show 
of force against the insurrectionist left. There were some paradox- 
ical aspects to this policy of coupling reform with a hard military 
line toward the mass organizations and incipient guerrilla forces. 
For one thing, it strengthened the hand of military conservatives 
led by Garcia and undercut efforts by Majano and others to reach 
an accommodation with wavering non-Marxist labor and peasant 


Colonial church at Panchimalco, south of San Salvador 

groups. It also helped frustrate the implementation of the agrar- 
ian reform program by facilitating reprisals by security force per- 
sonnel or paramilitary groups (the now "unofficial" remnants of 
Orden) against the recipients of the expropriated acreage, much 
of which was distributed on a cooperative basis. Ultimately, the 
policies of the third junta seemed to do little to expand its popular 
base or enhance its legitimacy. As was the case with its predeces- 
sors, it also failed to rein in political violence, official or unofficial, 
originating from either side of the political spectrum. 

That violence reached a dramatic apex in March 1980 with the 
murder of the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero y 
Galdamez, on March 24, 1980. Romero, who had been selected 
as archbishop in part because of his moderate political views, was 
influenced strongly by the liberation theology (see Glossary) move- 
ment, and he was appalled by the brutality employed with increas- 
ing frequency by government forces against the populace and 
particularly against the clergy. In his weekly radio homilies, he re- 
lated statistics on political assassination and excesses committed 
by the military. He frequently urged soldiers to refuse to carry out 
what he characterized as immoral orders. His high profile made 
him an important political figure, and he had used his influence 
to urge the PDC to pull out of the junta and to argue against United 
States military aid to El Salvador. Despite his stature as the 
country's Catholic primate, he was targeted for assassination; all 
indications are that the killing was carried out by the right wing. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Romero's funeral on March 30 produced a dramatic clash be- 
tween demonstrators and security forces. The BPR, seeking to 
capitalize politically on the archbishop's assassination, organized 
an antigovernment rally in San Salvador's Plaza of the Cathedral. 
What had been billed as a peaceful protest, however, turned vio- 
lent. Responsibility for the melee that followed never has been firmly 
placed. Shooting erupted, apparently from both sides, and the police 
opened fire on the crowd. The resultant news footage of unarmed 
demonstrators being gunned down on the steps of the National 
Cathedral had a strong impact abroad, especially in the United 
States. El Salvador became almost overnight a focus of interna- 
tional debate and scrutiny. 

Another high-impact incident was the murder of four church- 
women from the United States in December 1980. The murders 
themselves drew the ire of the United States government and public 
and prompted the administration of Jimmy Carter to suspend a 
program of limited military aid it had granted to the junta govern- 
ment (United States military aid had been rejected by the Romero 
government in 1977 when the Carter administration sought to link 
disbursement to human rights compliance). The subsequent in- 
vestigation frustrated United States officials, angered the Ameri- 
can public, and enhanced the suspicion that high-ranking officers 
in the security forces were orchestrating a cover-up of the affair. 

The violent incidents that drew foreign attention to the chaotic 
situation in El Salvador were played out against a backdrop of a 
continuing power struggle within the military. While Garcia con- 
tinued to undermine the position of the reformist faction led by 
Majano from within the institution, other conservative commanders 
were plotting to stage a coup to force out the Majanistas once and 
for all. What at first appeared to be a preemptive strike against 
these conspirators on May 7, 1980, later proved to be the last nail 
in Majano' s political coffin. A number of plotters, including 
D'Aubuisson, were captured by Majano loyalists during a plan- 
ning session; incriminating documents also were seized at the site. 
The Majanistas, backed by the PDC members of the junta, 
demanded that D'Aubuisson and the others be tried for treason. 
The ex-major's release on May 13 and the subsequent failure of 
efforts to bring him to trial demonstrated the power shift within 
the military and the almost complete lack of PDC influence out- 
side the reformist faction. 

Majano 's personal fall from power began with the announce- 
ment by Colonel Garcia on May 10 that Colonel Gutierrez was 
to function as sole commander in chief of the armed forces, a 
responsibility previously shared with Majano. The reassignment 


Historical Setting 

of Majanista officers, usually to foreign diplomatic positions, con- 
tinued until September, when almost all remaining reformist officers 
were removed from their posts. Colonel Majano himself survived 
an assassination attempt by right-wing gunmen in November, only 
to be ousted from the junta on December 6 while on a visit to Pan- 
ama. Majano returned in a vain effort to shore up his support 
among the ranks. By this time, however, he was practically bereft 
of support within the officer corps, the focus of real power in El 
Salvador at the time. Majano eventually fled into foreign exile rather 
than risk further attempts on his life. Many observers believed at 
the time that he took with him the last hopes of averting a major 
civil conflict through effective social and economic reform. 

The Civil Conflict Begins 

The early reaction of the Salvadoran radical left to the progres- 
sion of reformist junta governments was characteristically fractious. 
The PCES expressed initial support for the first junta. Other groups, 
such as the ERP, condemned such impulses as collaborationist and 
renewed their call for an insurrection. Although some dialogue 
apparently took place between Colonel Majano and his sup- 
porters and some members of the radical left, the erosion of 
Majano's position within the military and the inability of the junta 
governments to stem the tide of right-wing violence, not to men- 
tion a certain suspicion among the Majanistas themselves of the 
leftists' ultimate goals, worked against any effort to incorporate 
them into the governmental structure. Some observers have noted 
this failure to bring the left into the political process as a major 
shortcoming of the reformist juntas. It appears, however, that the 
political will to do so was lacking on both sides. This was particu- 
larly true of the Marxist guerrilla groups that had expanded their 
membership and their aspirations since their establishment as urban 
terrorist cells in the mid-1970s. 

Foreign influences on these Salvadoran guerrilla groups served 
in large part to convince their leadership of the need to sublimate 
old ideological quarrels in favor of a coordinated and cooperative 
effort to arouse the Salvadoran masses. The example of the 
Nicaraguan revolution served as both an inspiration and a loose 
blueprint for the Salvadorans. Nicaragua demonstrated the impor- 
tance of incorporating as many sectors of society as possible into 
a revolutionary movement while still ensuring the predominance 
of a Marxist-Leninist "vanguard" group within the coalition. In 
Nicaragua the vanguard role was played by the FSLN, a group 
that had represented singlehandedly the pro-Cuban insurrection- 
ist left in that country since the early 1960s. In El Salvador, the 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

situation was more complicated. Clearly, several ideologically 
diverse (Maoist, pro-Soviet, and pro-Cuban) guerrilla groups could 
not fulfill simultaneously the role of revolutionary vanguard. 
Salvadorans recognized a need for unity that was not achieved until 
Cuba's Fidel Castro took a direct hand in the matter. The negotiat- 
ing process began in Havana in December 1979, some two months 
after the reformist coup in El Salvador, and was concluded by May 
1980, when the major guerrilla groups announced their unity under 
the banner of the Unified Revolutionary Directorate (Direccion 
Revolucionaria Unificada — DRU). Despite some continued infight- 
ing, the DRU succeeded in coordinating the groups' efforts to 
organize and equip their forces. 

While the military strategy of the left was proceeding along one 
path, some opposition parties and the mass organizations were fol- 
lowing a similar and eventually convergent course. On April 1, 
1980, the Revolutionary Democratic Front (Frente Democratico 
Revolucionario — FDR) was established by the CRM, the umbrella 
group of the mass organizations. It brought together all five of the 
mass organizations associated with the DRU guerrilla groups as 
well as Ungo's MNR, Zamora's MPSC, another party known as 
the Popular Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Liberacion 
Popular — MLP), forty-nine labor unions, and several student 
groups. FDR political leaders such as Ungo and Zamora began 
to travel abroad, where they found political and moral support, 
particularly in Mexico and among the social democratic parties of 
Western Europe. Meanwhile, the mass organizations began a cam- 
paign of general strikes in an effort to pave the way for a full or 
partial leftist assumption of power, either through insurrection or 
through negotiations. 

In November 1980, the FDR was struck a traumatic blow when 
one of its leaders, Enrique Alvarez, was killed along with five other 
members of the front by a right-wing death squad. This incident 
underscored the danger of the FDR's strategy of open organiza- 
tion and opposition and contributed to its formal unification with 
the DRU. Although the leadership of the mass organizations had 
long been cooperating with the guerrilla groups, the politicians of 
the MNR and MPSC had sought to steer a slightly more indepen- 
dent path. After the Alvarez murder, however, they felt compelled 
to make common cause with the DRU; they took this action not 
only for their own protection but also because they believed that 
the prevailing level of violence in the country legitimized a violent 
response. By 1981 the FDR had been united formally with the 
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo 
Marti de Liberacion Nacional — FMLN), the successor organization 


Historical Setting 

to the DRU. The first public announcement of the FMLN-FDR 
was made in Mexico City in January 1981, some four days after 
the FMLN guerrillas initiated an operation that they dubbed, 
prematurely and inaccurately, the "final offensive." 

The guerrillas offensive began on January 10, 1981. From the 
perspective of the FMLN, its timing proved to be premature in 
a number of respects. The guerrillas' logistics network was not pre- 
pared to support an operation on an almost countrywide level; the 
rebels generally were not well armed and clearly were not well 
trained. The Salvadoran armed forces, although initially taken by 
surprise, were sufficiently cohesive to rally and beat back the guer- 
rilla attacks. The FMLN hoped to establish operational control over 
Morazan Department and to declare it a ' 'liberated territory. ' ' This 
major objective never was achieved. On a basic level, the final offen- 
sive demonstrated the limited extent of the guerrillas' support 
among the Salvadoran population. The anticipated countrywide 
insurrection on which the FMLN had staked so much of its hopes 
for victory never materialized. 

The final offensive was not a total loss for the FMLN, however. 
It retained military strongholds, especially in Chalatenango Depart- 
ment, where its forces settled in for a protracted guerrilla conflict. 
The offensive focused further international attention on El Salvador 
and established the FMLN-FDR as a formidable force both polit- 
ically and militarily; in August 1981, the governments of France 
and Mexico recognized the front as a "representative political force" 
and called for a negotiated settlement between the rebels and the 
government. Seeking to capitalize on such support, FDR represen- 
tatives carried on a "political offensive" abroad while the FMLN 
forces dug in, resupplied, and continued their organizational and 
operational efforts in the field (see Left-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). 

On the down side for the guerrillas, however, the armed forces 
continued to repulse their assaults with relative ease, even without 
the benefit of United States military aid. The timing of the final 
offensive had in large part reflected the desire of the FMLN to take 
power before the inauguration of United States president Ronald 
Reagan. Although it failed militarily, the offensive still drew con- 
siderable attention from observers and policymakers in Washington. 

The United States Takes a Hand 

The Carter administration had lost considerable leverage in El 
Salvador when the Romero government renounced United States 
aid in 1977. The United States therefore welcomed the October 
1979 coup and backed up its approval with an economic aid package 
that by 1980 had become the largest among Western Hemisphere 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

recipients. A small amount of military aid also was provided. United 
States advisers contributed to the third junta's agrarian reform pro- 
gram, particularly Phase III of the reform, the so-called Land to 
the Tiller decree of April 28, 1980, granting title to smallholders. 
Phase II, expropriating holdings between 100 and 500 hectares, 
was decreed in March 1980, but implementation was postponed. 
The government cited lack of administrative and financial resources 
for its inaction; many observers believed that political considera- 
tions were equally influential. 

United States policy and influence in El Salvador, however, was 
fitful and inconsistent from 1979 through 1981. It was driven by 
two conflicting motivations in the complex and shifting political 
prism of El Salvador. The first motivation was the prevention of 
a leftist takeover. Both economic and military aid for the junta 
governments seemed to be intended to promote a centrist alterna- 
tive to either a Marxist-led revolution or a conservative military 
regime. The assumption of power by the FSLN in Nicaragua in- 
creased the pressure on the United States to prevent a similar result 
in El Salvador; this pressure grew by 1981 as the Sandinistas con- 
solidated their dominant role in the Nicaraguan government. 

The second motivation was human rights. The Carter admin- 
istration had established the promotion of human rights as a 
cornerstone of its foreign policy, particularly in Latin America. 
Like many Salvadorans, United States officials were frustrated by 
the inability of the junta governments to contain political violence. 
Nevertheless, Carter's policy was sufficiently flexible to allow in- 
creased aid levels despite a generalized upswing in human rights 
violations in El Salvador, as long as the government there appeared 
to be making good faith efforts at reform. It was not merely the 
general level of violence, however, but the specific murders of 
United States citizens that most affected dealings with El Salvador. 
As previously mentioned, the December 1980 murder of the four 
churchwomen produced a complete cutoff of aid pending an in- 
vestigation of the case. On January 4, 1981, two American land 
reform advisers from the American Institute for Free Labor De- 
velopment (AIFLD) were gunned down along with a Salvadoran 
in the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador. This action alarmed not 
only the White House but also the United States Congress, and 
it added fuel to the effort to disburse aid based on improvements 
in the Salvadoran human rights situation. 

The launching of the "final offensive" lent a new urgency to 
Washington's approach. On January 14, 1981, four days after the 
offensive began, Carter announced the approval of US$5 million 
in "nonlethal" military aid; an additional US$5 million was 


Historical Setting 

authorized four days later. The low level of the aid and the im- 
pediments to its rapid disbursement meant that it had little direct 
impact on the Salvadoran armed forces' response to the guerrilla 
offensive; the renewal of military aid, however, established a trend 
that President Reagan would build on when he assumed office on 
January 20, 1981. 

The Reagan administration initially appeared to stress the need 
to shore up El Salvador as a barrier against communist expansion 
in Central America. The United States Department of State is- 
sued a special report on February 23, 1981, entitled Communist In- 
terference in El Salvador, which emphasized Nicaraguan, Cuban, and 
Soviet support for the FMLN. The report was widely criticized 
in the American media and the United States Congress. Neverthe- 
less, the administration succeeded in increasing substantially the 
levels of United States military and economic aid to El Salvador, 
first by executive order, then by legislative appropriation. Although 
Reagan downplayed the importance of human rights considera- 
tions, Congress voted in January 1982 to require certification by 
the executive every six months of Salvadoran progress in such areas 
as the curbing of abuses by the armed forces, the implementation 
of economic and political reforms (particularly agrarian reform), 
and the demonstration of a commitment to hold free elections with 
the participation of all political factions (all those that would 
renounce further military or paramilitary activity). The adminis- 
tration accepted the certification requirement, albeit reluctantly, 
and proceeded with a policy that emphasized economic maintenance 
in the face of guerrilla attacks on the country's infrastructure, mili- 
tary buildup to contain the insurgency, and low-key efforts in the 
human rights area. 

The "Democratic Process" 

As the FMLN guerrillas settled in for a protracted conflict marked 
by economic sabotage, the seizure of lightly defended towns and 
other targets, and the establishment of rural zones of influence, 
events in El Salvador increasingly began to be driven by decisions 
made in Washington. One area in which a consensus was reached 
among the Reagan administration, Congress, and Salvadoran 
moderates (mainly the PDC) was the desirability of establishing 
a legitimate government through a process of free elections. The 
Salvadoran right reluctantly joined this process after it became clear 
that the administration did not favor a conservative military coup. 
Duarte, who had been named provisional president on December 
13, 1980, under a fourth junta government, announced on Sep- 
tember 15, 1981, that elections for a Constituent Assembly would 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

be held in March 1982. The Constituent Assembly would draft 
a constitution that would lay the groundwork for a presidential elec- 
tion. It also was hoped that the assembly would incorporate all or 
most of the reforms decreed by the junta governments into the new 

The Constituent Assembly elections were participated in by six 
parties, but only three were of major significance. Two of these 
were familiar actors in El Salvador, the PDC and PCN. The third 
was a new party — the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza 
Republicana Nacionalista — Arena) — led by D'Aubuisson, which 
represented the interests of the right. The FDR refused to partici- 
pate in the elections, citing fears for the safety of possible candi- 
dates, the lack of proper political conditions, and the inordinate 
influence of the United States. It maintained that negotiations be- 
tween the FMLN-FDR and the government should precede the 
holding of elections. 

In the three-way contest that developed, the PDC was at a dis- 
advantage in several respects. Its grass-roots organization had suf- 
fered from inactivity and the crippling impact of death squad 
assassinations. Ideologically, its appeal among the conservative 
rural population was limited in comparison to that of the center- 
right PCN and the rightist Arena, which also benefited from 
D'Aubuisson 's image as a strong, virile man of action, or caudillo. 
The PDC also lacked the funds available to the other parties, es- 
pecially Arena. 

Despite a clear preference for Duarte and the PDC in Washing- 
ton, the Christian Democrats captured only a plurality (35.5 per- 
cent, equating to twenty-four seats) of the balloting for the 
sixty-member Constituent Assembly. Although this was the larg- 
est total of any single party, it left the PDC facing a conservative 
majority in that body as Arena garnered nineteen seats and 25.8 
percent of the vote and the PCN won fourteen seats with its 16.8 
percent of the total ballots. This result took policymakers in 
Washington somewhat by surprise. Advocates of reform suddenly 
were faced with the prospect of a new constitution drafted by a 
conservative, and presumably antireform, Constituent Assembly. 
An even more worrisome eventuality for the United States was the 
possible election of D'Aubuisson as the country's provisional presi- 
dent. D'Aubuisson had been elected speaker of the Constituent 
Assembly, and many observers expected him to win the provisional 
presidency as well. The fact that he was passed over for this post 
in favor of the moderate independent Alvaro Magana Borja report- 
edly reflected pressure both from the United States government, 
which did not wish to be put in the position of requesting increased 


Historical Setting 

levels of aid for a D'Aubuisson-led government, and the Salva- 
doran armed forces, which shared the Reagan administration's in- 
terest in raising the level of military aid. 

Although it had initiated a democratic process of sorts, El Sal- 
vador was still volatile as 1983 approached. The FMLN-FDR had 
strengthened itself militarily and continued to press for a nego- 
tiated "power-sharing" agreement that would grant it a role in 
a revamped governmental structure. After their successful response 
to the poorly coordinated "final offensive," the armed forces bogged 
down and seemed unwilling or unable to respond effectively to the 
guerrilla threat. Political violence continued at high levels. The in- 
creasing involvement of the United States prompted comparisons 
with the early days of the Vietnam conflict. The ambiguity of the 
Salvadoran situation from the American perspective was not im- 
proved by the conservative victory in the 1982 elections. As seen 
from both San Salvador and Washington, the future for El Sal- 
vador appeared uncertain at best (see Relations with the United 
States, ch. 4). 

Comprehensive studies of Salvadoran history are few. Alastair 
White's El Salvador, published in 1973 and reissued in 1982, remains 
the major general work on the subject. Other authors have produced 
useful volumes of more limited scope. Thomas P. Anderson's 
Matanza: El Salvador's Communist Revolt of 1932 is a detailed account 
of a critical event. Twentieth-century political history is addressed 
effectively in Stephen Webre's Jose Napoleon Duarte and the Christian 
Democratic Party in Salvadoran Politics, 1960-1972. El Salvador's 
political prominence after 1979 drew increased attention to the sub- 
ject; the results, however, are mixed. The majority of recent works 
are excessively polemicized, mainly as a result of the polarized 
atmosphere prevailing in the country throughout the early 1980s. 
One exception is Enrique A. Baloyra's El Salvador in Transition, an 
illuminating study of Salvadoran politics after 1948. Duarte 's 
autobiography, aptly titled Duarte: My Story, is interesting in an anec- 
dotal sense but of relatively limited value to the historian. (For fur- 
ther information and complete citations, see Bibliography.) 


Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment 

Girl selling fruit 

IN THE LATE 1980s, El Salvador was a country with major social, 
economic, and political problems that had reached crisis propor- 
tions on a national level. These problems reflected a basic pattern 
of social, economic, and political inequality that has persisted since 
the colonial era and grown in intensity during the twentieth century. 

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America in land 
area; it is also the most densely populated. These conditions have 
combined with marked imbalances in income distribution to cre- 
ate sharp contrasts in standards of living and general quality of 
life between the powerful and wealthy elite and the poverty-stricken 
masses. Limited productive territory, continuing high rates of popu- 
lation growth, and restricted ownership of land have led to a high 
level of unemployment and underemployment among the still 
largely rural and agrarian population. This population has lost much 
of its subsistence land base and therefore has had to rely for sur- 
vival on participation in the cash economy, to which, however, most 
of its members were distinctly marginal. 

The socioeconomic plight of the rural population, largely ignored 
by military-dominated governments, contributed to the develop- 
ment of an armed insurgent movement by the early 1980s. Pres- 
sure for economic reforms also played a part in the dialogue over 
political change as El Salvador's rigidly controlled oligarchic sys- 
tem enforced by the military confronted pressures for a more open 
form of participatory democracy. Meanwhile, the turmoil and de- 
struction caused by civil conflict exacerbated the problems of an 
already seriously stressed population. 


El Salvador, the smallest Spanish-speaking nation in the Western 
Hemisphere, is located on the western side of the Central Ameri- 
can isthmus. With an area of 21 ,041 square kilometers, the country 
is only slightly larger than Massachusetts. It is roughly rectangular 
in shape with 515 kilometers of land boundaries and 307 kilometers 
of coastline on the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador is bounded by 
Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the north and east, and 
it is separated from Nicaragua on the southeast by the Golfo de 
Fonseca (see fig. 1; fig. 2). 


El Salvador, along with the rest of Middle America (a region 
comprising mainly Mexico and Central America), is one of the most 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

seismologically active regions on earth, situated atop three of the 
large tectonic plates that constitute the earth's surface. The mo- 
tion of these plates causes the area's earthquake and volcanic 

Most of Central America and the Caribbean Basin rests on the 
relatively motionless Caribbean Plate. The Pacific Ocean floor, 
however, is being carried northeast by the underlying motion of 
the Cocos Plate. Ocean floor material is relatively dense; when it 
strikes the lighter granite rocks of Central America, the ocean floor 
is forced down under the land mass, creating the deep Middle 
America Trench that lies off the coast of El Salvador. The sub- 
duction of the Cocos Plate accounts for the frequency of earthquakes 
near the coast. As the rocks constituting the ocean floor are forced 
down, they melt, and the molten material pours up through weak- 
nesses in the surface rock, producing volcanoes and geysers. 

North of El Salvador, Mexico and most of Guatemala are rid- 
ing on the westward-moving North American Plate that butts 
against the northern edge of the stationary Caribbean Plate in 
southern Guatemala. The grinding action of these two plates cre- 
ates a fault, similar to the San Andreas in California, that runs 
the length of the valley of the Rio Motagua in Guatemala. Mo- 
tion along this fault is the source of earthquakes in northernmost 
El Salvador. 

El Salvador has a long history of destructive earthquakes and 
volcanic eruptions. San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854, 
and it suffered heavy damage in the 1919, 1982, and 1986 tremors. 
The country has over twenty volcanoes, although only two, San 
Miguel and Izalco, have been active in recent years. Violent erup- 
tions are rare. From the early nineteenth century to the mid-1950s, 
Izalco erupted with a regularity that earned it the name "Light- 
house of the Pacific. ' ' Its brilliant flares were clearly visible for great 
distances at sea, and at night its glowing lava turned it into a bril- 
liant luminous cone. 

Physical Features 

Two parallel mountain ranges cross El Salvador east to west with 
a central plateau between them and a narrow coastal plain hug- 
ging the Pacific (see fig. 3). These physical features divide the coun- 
try into two physiographic regions. The mountain ranges and 
central plateau covering 85 percent of the land comprise the in- 
terior highlands. The remaining coastal plains are referred to as 
the Pacific lowlands. 

The northern range of mountains, the Sierra Madre, forms a 
continuous chain along the border with Honduras. Elevations in 


The Society and Its Environment 

this region range from 1,600 to 2,200 meters. The area was once 
heavily forested, but overexploitation led to extensive erosion, and 
it has become semibarren. As a result, it is the country's most 
sparsely populated zone, with little farming or other development. 

The southern range of mountains is actually a discontinuous 
chain of more than twenty volcanoes, clustered into five groups. 
The westernmost group, near the Guatemalan border, contains 
Izalco and Santa Ana, which at 2,365 meters is the highest point 
in El Salvador. Between the cones lie alluvial basins and rolling 
hills eroded from ash deposits. The volcanic soil is rich, and much 
of El Salvador's coffee is planted on these slopes. 

The central plateau constitutes only 25 percent of the land area 
but contains the heaviest concentration of population and the coun- 
try 's largest cities. This plain is about 50 kilometers wide and has 
an average elevation of 600 meters. Terrain here is rolling, with 
occasional escarpments, lava fields, and geysers. 

A narrow plain extends from the coastal volcanic range to the 
Pacific Ocean. This region has a width ranging from one to thirty- 
two kilometers with the widest section in the east, adjacent to the 
Golfo de Fonseca. Near La Libertad, however, the mountains pinch 
the lowlands out; the slopes of adjacent volcanoes come down di- 
rectly to the sea. Surfaces in the Pacific lowlands are generally flat 
or gently rolling and result from alluvial deposits from nearby slopes. 

El Salvador has over 300 rivers, the most important of which 
is the Rio Lempa. Originating in Guatemala, the Rio Lempa cuts 
across the northern range of mountains, flows along much of the 
central plateau, and finally cuts through the southern volcanic range 
to empty into the Pacific. It is El Salvador's only navigable river, 
and it and its tributaries drain about half the country. Other rivers 
are generally short and drain the Pacific lowlands or flow from the 
central plateau through gaps in the southern mountain range to 
the Pacific. 

Numerous lakes of volcanic origin are found in the interior high- 
lands; many of these lakes are surrounded by mountains and have 
high, steep banks. The largest lake, the Lago de Ilopango, lies just 
to the east of the capital. Other large lakes include the Lago de 
Coatepeque in the west and the Lago de Giiija on the Guatema- 
lan border. The Cerron Grande Dam on the Rio Lempa has created 
a large reservoir, the Embalse Cerron Grande, in northern El 


El Salvador has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry 
seasons. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation and show little 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The Society and Its Environment 

seasonal change. The Pacific lowlands are uniformly hot; the cen- 
tral plateau and mountain areas are more moderate. 

The rainy season, known locally as invierno, or winter, extends 
from May to October. Almost all the annual rainfall occurs dur- 
ing this time, and yearly totals, particularly on southern-facing 
mountain slopes, can be as high as 200 centimeters. Protected areas 
and the central plateau receive lesser, although still significant, 
amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pres- 
sure over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunder- 
storms. Although hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific, they 
seldom affect El Salvador. 

From November through April, the northeast trade winds con- 
trol weather patterns. During these months, air flowing from the 
Caribbean has had most of the precipitation wrung out of it pass- 
ing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches 
El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy. This season is known locally 
as verano, or summer. 

Temperatures vary little with season; elevation is the primary 
determinant. The Pacific lowlands are the hottest region, with 
annual averages ranging from 25°C to 29°C. San Salvador is repre- 
sentative of the central plateau, with an annual average tempera- 
ture of 23°C and absolute high and low readings of 38°C and 7°C, 
respectively. Mountain areas are the coolest, with annual averages 
from 12°C to 23 °C and minimum temperatures sometimes 
approaching freezing. 


Although historically El Salvador has been home to a culturally 
diverse mix of peoples including blacks, Indians, Hispanics, and 
North Europeans, by the 1980s the population of the country was 
essentially homogeneous in terms of ethnicity and basic cultural 
identity. Virtually all Salvadorans spoke Spanish, the official lan- 
guage, as their mother tongue, and the vast majority could be 
characterized as mestizos (or ladinos, a term more commonly used 
in Central America), meaning persons of mixed biological ances- 
try who follow a wide variety of indigenous and Hispanic customs 
and habits that over the centuries have come to constitute Spanish- 
American cultural patterns. In the late 1980s, the ethnic composi- 
tion of the population was estimated as 89 percent mestizo, 10 
percent Indian, and 1 percent white. 

In contrast to most other Central American countries, El Sal- 
vador no longer possessed an ethnically or linguistically distinct 
Indian population, although persons of Indian racial or cultural 
heritage still lived in the western departments of the country (see 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Indians, this ch.). During the twentieth century, this population 
was rapidly assimilated into the dominant Hispanic culture. Simi- 
larly, there was no ethnically or culturally distinct black population. 

In spite of ethnic homogeneity, however, Salvadoran society in 
the 1980s exhibited strong contrasts in life-style based on extremes 
of great wealth and abject poverty. These contrasting life-styles, 
in turn, created serious rifts in Salvadoran society that effectively 
divided the population into distinctive subcultural groups. 

Demographic Trends 

The population of El Salvador at the time of the national census 
in 1971 was 3,549,000. According to estimates, population growth 
averaged 3.4 percent annually in the 1970s and 2.4 percent in the 
1980s. One United States government estimate claimed a 1988 
population figure of 5,389,000 (estimates vary). Although El Sal- 
vador's high rate of population growth was similar to that of other 
Central American countries, the social and political effects of this 
population increase were aggravated by the very limited national 
territory available for the population. 

Consequently, El Salvador also consistendy had very high popu- 
lation density. From a figure of 170 persons per square kilometer 
in 1970, density has been projected to rise to about 230 persons 
per square kilometer in 1980 and to an extremely high 420 per- 
sons by 2000. El Salvador is the most crowded country of Central 
America (indeed, of all Latin America), and that condition will 
continue into the foreseeable future. This demographic situation 
has further exacerbated the problems associated with the inequal- 
ity of national resource distribution. But the consequences of these 
demographic pressures have not been limited to El Salvador. Histor- 
ically, high Salvadoran population density has contributed to ten- 
sions with neighboring Honduras, as land-poor Salvadorans 
emigrated to less densely populated Honduras and established them- 
selves as squatters on unused or underused land. This phenome- 
non was a major cause of the 1969 war between El Salvador and 
Honduras (see The 1969 War with Honduras, ch. 1). 

The distribution of population in El Salvador also remained un- 
even. The least densely populated areas were the northern depart- 
ments of Chalatenango, Morazan, and Cabanas, encompassing 
the marginal land and rugged terrain of the descending slopes of 
mountain ranges that peak in Honduras (see Physical Features, 
this ch.). In contrast, the areas of greatest settlement were in the 
fertile central zone, where there was a large rural population, and 
in the major urban areas, including the San Salvador metropolitan 


Izalco Volcano, Sonsonate Department 

area (which had 828 persons per square kilometer in 1971), Santa 
Ana, and San Miguel. 

The department of San Salvador was the most populous of El 
Salvador's fourteen departments, with a population density in the 
mid-1970s of 825 persons per square kilometer. The second most 
densely populated department at that time was neighboring Cus- 
catlan, with 206 persons per square kilometer. All other depart- 
ments had fewer than 200 persons per square kilometer. 

Observers believed that significant population growth would con- 
tinue in the capital, San Salvador, where the net increase in popu- 
lation for the decade of the 1960s (202,000 persons) and of the 1970s 
(327,000) almost equaled and exceeded, respectively, the city's total 
population in 1950 (213,000). The population of San Salvador in 
1980 was estimated to be 858,000, a figure that represented 30 per- 
cent of the total national population. The capital accounted for ap- 
proximately 60 percent of the total urban population during 
1950-80; its growth rates ranged between 4.4 percent and 5 per- 
cent during that period. Projections placed the population of the 
capital at approximately 1 million by 1 990 and 1 . 5 million by the 
end of the century. 

The number of small urban centers under 50,000 inhabitants 
in El Salvador increased from five in 1950 to eighteen by 1980. 
Inhabitants of these centers comprised 24 percent of the total urban 
population in 1980. San Miguel and Santa Ana, the two secondary 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

cities of the country, accounted for an estimated 15 percent of the 
total urban population in 1980 and had an estimated annual growth 
rate of 3 percent (Santa Ana) and 4 percent (San Miguel) for the 
decades between 1950 and 1980. Nevertheless, these two cities were 
unable to compete with San Salvador in growth and prosperity. 
San Salvador's urbanized area was 5.7 times as large as that of 
Santa Ana, the next largest city, by the mid-1970s. 

The urban population has grown approximately 50 percent in 
each decade from 1950 to 1980 and was projected to increase 3.9 
percent annually from 1971 to 2000, as compared with an approx- 
imate rural population increase of only 30 percent per decade and 
a projected annual rate of increase of 2.8 percent from 1971 to 2000. 
But the rural population has been and will continue to be signifi- 
cantly larger than the urban in absolute numbers. The net rural 
population in 1971 was over 2.6 million, but it was projected to 
reach an estimated 6 million persons by the end of the century. 

This high rural population growth rate accounted for the rela- 
tively low share, only 30 percent, of the total national population 
found in the capital in 1980. In addition, relatively few "new cities," 
towns increasing from under to over 10,000 inhabitants, appeared 
in the three decades prior to 1980. Urban growth therefore was 
limited primarily to increases in existing cities. During the 1950-80 
period, urban areas accounted for 35 to 40 percent of the national 
population increase; analysts projected, however, that between 1980 
and 2000 the urban sector as a whole would probably have to ab- 
sorb 48 to 57 percent of that increase. San Salvador was expected 
to receive the bulk of urban population growth, perhaps as much 
as 65 to 69 percent from 1980 to 2000, while the two secondary 
cities and the smaller urban centers would decline somewhat in 
percentage of total urban population. 

Population Growth and Age Distribution 

The population of El Salvador increased from 1.9 million in- 
habitants in 1950 to 4.1 million in 1975 and 4.7 million in 1984. 
It was projected to increase to 8.8 million by the year 2000. In other 
words, the population would have doubled in each quarter- century 
since 1950. This high growth rate was a result of three main fac- 
tors characteristic not only of El Salvador but also of Central Ameri- 
ca as a whole: a rapidly falling death rate, a continued high birth 
rate, and a very young population, i.e., a high proportion of the 
national population under age twenty (see fig. 4). 

Although there was some variance in figures between El Sal- 
vador's census reports and estimates by the United Nations Latin 
American Center for Demography (Centro Latinoamericano 


The Society and Its Environment 

de Demografia — Celade), there was agreement on basic birth and 
death statistics. The crude birth rate (the annual number of births 
per 1,000 inhabitants) declined from a relatively stable 49 through 
the 1950s to 44.4 in the late 1960s. In the major industrial nations, 
the rate is commonly below 20. The annual death rate per 1,000 
inhabitants, however, declined by approximately one-third dur- 
ing the same period, falling from 21 .3 to 13, and this decline con- 
tributed to the high rate of national population increase. 

From 1970 to 2000, a continuing decline in both birth rates and 
death rates was anticipated. Studies projected a gradual fall in the 
crude birth rate from 42.2 in 1970-75 to 33.5 in 1995-2000 and 
in the crude death rate from 11.1 in 1970-75 to 7.2 in 1985-90 
and 5.6 in 1995-2000 (see table 2, Appendix). These two trends 
would operate more or less in tandem, however, so that the rate 
of natural increase, though declining, would still hover at around 
3 percent. The overall population was very young; the median age 
in the country declined from nineteen in 1950 to seventeen in 1975, 
and 41.3 percent were projected to be under age fifteen by the year 
2000. It is noteworthy here that life expectancy at birth improved 
from approximately forty-six years in the 1950s to fifty-nine years 
in 1977 and to sixty-five years in 1984 (sixty-three years for males 
and sixty-six for females), largely as a result of mass immuniza- 
tion schemes and control of disease-bearing insects. Life expectancy 
was expected to reach sixty-nine to seventy years in 1995-2000. 

Birth rates showed that total fertility rates (the number of chil- 
dren a woman would bear in her lifetime if she experienced aver- 
age fertility) ranged from approximately 6.1 to 6.3 in the mid-1970s, 
down from 6.7 in 1961 . Analysts projected that this rate would drop 
to 4.4 in 1995-2000. The decrease in the level of fertility since 1961 
was seen in the twenty- to thirty-nine-year-old age-group. 

Family planning programs of both the privately organized Sal- 
vadoran Demographic Association, which was founded in 1962 and 
began operations in 1967, and (after 1971) government agencies 
under the Ministry of Public Health and Social Services probably 
contributed to this decline in fertility rates. The groups lobbied 
for family planning programs, provided family planning clinics, 
and dispensed birth control information and devices. Female sterili- 
zation was the most common birth control method because it is 
final and does not require frequent checkups or visits to clinics for 
additional supplies. The need for clinic visits has associated use 
of oral contraceptives in the popular mind with illness. In addi- 
tion, there were fewer religious objections to sterilization. At the 
same time, abortions also were widely practiced. Abortion was ille- 
gal in El Salvador, and improperly performed abortions were 


El Salvador: A Country Study 



Source: Based on information from Robert W. Fox and Jerrold W. Huguet, Population and 
Urban Trends in Central America and Panama, Washington, 1977, 103-4. 

Figure 4. Estimated Population Distribution by Age and Sex, 1985 

common. They were the third leading cause of hospital admissions 
in 1975, constituting 24 of every 1,000 admissions, according to 
a sample survey. 

Fertility rates showed significant contrasts between urban and rural 
settings. In 1975 the birth rate per 1,000 women in rural areas was 
estimated at 46 to 47, whereas in urban areas it stood at approxi- 
mately 34 to 35 (31 to 33 for the San Salvador metropolitan area). 
On average, by age thirty-five, rural women had seven children while 
urban women had only five. By the end of their childbearing years, 
rural women, on average, had eight children, and urban women 
had six. Given the markedly inferior health conditions of the coun- 
tryside, however, of the two additional children born to rural women, 
only one would survive. The number of children under age one per 
1,000 women between ages fifteen and forty-four declined by 16.5 
percent in urban areas from 1961 to 1971, while it remained essen- 
tially unchanged over that same time period in rural areas. 

Disparate fertility rates underscored the point that El Salvador 
continued to be a rural country in the late 1980s, "rural" in this 
context including all population in towns of less than 20,000. In 
fact, El Salvador showed the highest rural population increase — 82 
percent from 1961 to 1980 — in Latin America. 


Metro Center shopping mall, a modern retail center in San Salvador 

The Structure of Society 

In the late 1980s, El Salvador was experiencing severe internal 
stress as a result of an ongoing insurgency, a severely debilitated 
economy, and persistent socioeconomic inequalities. Despite re- 
form efforts begun under the post- 1979 civilian-military junta 
governments, the country's longstanding division between rich and 
poor still represented a challenge to Salvadoran leaders and to the 
society as a whole. 

The sharp contrast between those with great wealth and those 
living in extreme poverty had characterized Salvadoran society for 
more than a century and had roots in its colonial past (see Spanish 
Conquest and Colonization, ch. 1). When El Salvador became an 
independent republic in the early nineteenth century, this pattern 
did not change. Wealthy landowners, members of only a very few 
families, organized the national government to secure their posi- 
tions and continued to dominate Salvadoran national life. Rural 
peasants and workers provided for their own subsistence needs and 
labored for the elite. Indeed, as the century progressed, this pat- 
tern was sharpened by the successful introduction of coffee as an 
export cash crop. As the landed elite, along with more recently ar- 
rived European banking and financial families interested in coffee, 
began to realize the wealth potential of this crop, they increased 
the size of their estates. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

They did so by absorbing into their private holdings public lands 
(forests) and the communal lands of municipios (the Salvadoran 
equivalent of counties) and Indian communities, lands formerly 
cultivated in small subsistence plots by mestizo and Indian peasants. 
The government officially decreed these common lands out of ex- 
istence in favor of private property ownership in 1881. Those dis- 
possessed of their subsistence lands became permanent or seasonal 
laborers working for extremely low wages on coffee estates, which 
were labor-intensive enterprises. To protect their lands and their 
prosperity, the coffee elite formed a strong economic and political 
oligarchy. The army and the National Guard (Guardia Nacional — 
GN) were employed to control the unrest and occasional open re- 
bellions among the many now landless and poorly paid laborers. 

When coffee prices fell during the Great Depression of the 1930s, 
laborers' wages were reduced still further, and since much subsis- 
tence land had been converted to private coffee cultivation and the 
production of staple crops had declined accordingly, living condi- 
tions worsened (see Economic Crisis and Repression, ch. 1). Un- 
employment rose too, as many coffee growers decided not to harvest 
their crops. In addition, many small landowners, unable to sur- 
vive the low coffee prices, lost their lands to those who were 
wealthier, and landownership became even more concentrated. 

In the decades following the depression, export agriculture be- 
came somewhat diversified as cotton and, to a lesser extent, sugar 
also became important plantation cash crops, and some of the elite 
began to argue for industrial development. The upper class in gen- 
eral, however, strongly resisted any significant changes in the basic 
social, economic, and political order. After a rural uprising in 1932 
and the brutal reprisals later referred to as la matanza (the massacre), 
in which about 30,000 were killed by troops, the dominance of the 
elite was preserved and defended by the Salvadoran military (see 
Economic Crisis and Repression, ch. 1). 

The Upper Sector 

In relation to the total population, the Salvadoran elite was very 
small; by the early 1980s it constituted approximately 2 percent 
of the population. This social sector, however, owned 60 percent 
of the nation's productive land, exercised direct or indirect con- 
trol over all key productive sectors of the economy, and accounted 
for one-third of the national income. 

The economic interests of the elite fell into three general 
categories: export-oriented agribusiness, including coffee, cotton, 
sugar, and cattle; commercial and financial enterprises, including 
insurance, financial investment, real estate, utilities, and banks; 


The Society and Its Environment 

and relatively newer retail and industrial interests, including dis- 
tributorships and manufacturing. Given the continued dominance 
of export agriculture and of financial interests in the 1980s, this 
third category remained less significant overall. 

Among the elite, there were divisions based on relative social 
status and prestige as determined by ancestry. The oldest and most 
prestigious families were those associated with the colonial "found- 
ing fathers" who had developed export agriculture. Next in the 
pecking order were the families, mainly involved in banking and 
finance, whose European ancestors had immigrated to El Salvador 
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a useful 
knowledge of foreign markets. The newest elite families, on the 
lowest social rung of the upper echelon, included Lebanese, Pales- 
tinians, and Jews and were pejoratively referred to as "Turcos" 
by the "older" elites. These most recent immigrants constituted 
the bulk of the Salvadoran merchant class; they tended to social- 
ize primarily within their own group. 

Despite these social distinctions, the Salvadoran elite as a whole 
was interconnected through bonds of shared economic interest, 
direct business dealings, particularly between the agribusiness and 
financial sectors, and frequent intermarriage. The families of the 
oligarchy generally intermarried. Daughters anticipated lives as 
pampered mothers and wives, while sons expected a place in one 
of the family businesses. Generally, members of elite families tended 
to live in San Salvador, whence they traveled periodically to their 
plantations, which were usually directed on site by resident adminis- 
trators, or to Western Europe or the United States for business 
or recreation. The elite educated their children in private schools 
and in United States universities, entertained at fashionable clubs, 
and enjoyed extravagant conspicuous consumption. 

To reconcile their differences and represent their interests, the 
elite organized into associations. Most notable among these associ- 
ations was the National Association of Private Enterprise (Asocia- 
cion Nacional de la Empresa Privada — ANEP), which has expressed 
oligarchy views through various declarations in the media and be- 
fore the government (see Political Dynamics, ch. 4). 

The economic oligarchy, although traditionally the most influen- 
tial sector of Salvadoran society, was not the most powerful in and 
of itself. The Salvadoran upper sector also included the officer ranks 
of the military. Active or retired military personnel headed the 
government from 1932 to 1982, and, as a result, ambitious indi- 
vidual military officers and officer factions also emerged as interest 
groups in their own right. Members of the military gradually be- 
came involved in the elite economic structure — managing and 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

directing banks, the social security institute, the national airline, 
and the census bureau, as well as owning large estates and becom- 
ing involved in export agriculture. This combination of the officer 
corps and the elite families constituted the most powerful political 
and economic force in the country. 

Although their interests became closely interwoven, the economic 
oligarchy and the military remained separate entities. A few select 
military personnel were adopted into the oligarchy after their retire- 
ment, but few in the military were welcomed into the more exclu- 
sive San Salvador clubs frequented by the elite. For its own part, 
the officer corps was a closed and cliquish group; 90 percent of 
its members were graduates of the Captain General Gerardo Bar- 
rios Military Academy (Escuela Militar Capitan General Gerardo 
Barrios) and organized in mutually supportive networks based on 
graduating class membership. Each graduating class formed a group 
known as a tanda, whose members assisted each other and entered 
alliances with other tandas to broker the allocation of command and 
staff positions within the armed forces (see Officer Corps Dynam- 
ics, ch. 5). The military served as one of the few mechanisms of 
upward mobility in Salvadoran society. The expectation of power 
and prestige was a considerable motivator for cadets, most of whom 
typically came from a Salvadoran middle-class background. 

The Lower Sector 

The vast majority of Salvadorans were members of the lower 
sector of the population, which was composed of full- or part-time 
laborers, peasant smallholders, and the unemployed. Although there 
was considerable diversity within this large social sector, most of 
its members shared the common denominators of dependence on 
the cash economy and insufficient earning power for even a 
minimally adequate standard of living. The variation within this 
population reflected degrees of landlessness, types of employment, 
residence locations, and relationship with economic and military 
pow~i holders. 

In 1981 approximately 58 percent of Salvadorans lived in rural 
areas, some as full-time estate workers (colonos), others owning or 
more likely renting (arrendatarios) small plots of marginal land, and 
many, both those with small plots of land and the vast number who 
were landless, as seasonal wage laborers or unemployed. During 
the 1980s, the number of workers depending on agriculture for jobs 
increased, as a result of both population growth in the rural areas 
and the civil conflict, which eliminated more nonagricultural than 
agricultural jobs. 


The Society and Its Environment 

The extent of access to marginal subsistence plots varied accord- 
ing to the degree of plantation development in the various regions 
of El Salvador. The hilly northern departments of Chalatenango, 
Cabanas, and Morazan, adjacent to the Honduran border, con- 
tained relatively few large estates. Consequently, subsistence farms 
continued to exist there. But such farms, being small and with mar- 
ginal soil quality, generally did not provide full self-sufficiency or 
year-round employment. Nor was much cash available from the 
sale of produce, for the government, concerned with providing af- 
fordable food for city dwellers, kept food prices low. Consequently, 
members of these peasant families migrated seasonally to cash crop 
(coffee) estates at harvest time, when they obtained temporary jobs 
at very low wages, or moved to San Salvador. 

Peasants living in areas where coffee, cotton, and sugarcane were 
grown extensively were less likely to have access to subsistence plots, 
although valiant attempts were made to cultivate the rocky, mar- 
ginal land on the steep hillsides of the volcanic ranges of central 
El Salvador, where coffee estates absorbed all good land in the cen- 
tral valleys and on the cultivable slopes. The development of cot- 
ton estates on the low-lying coastal plain and of sugarcane, grown 
between the coastal cotton and hilly coffee regions, also dislocated 
many peasants. In addition, large-scale mechanization in the 1970s 
eliminated the need for sizable labor forces on these estates. For 
example, one 6,000-hectare cotton estate employed a total regular 
work force of only thirty-five people. The development of grazing 
lands for export cattle on the coastal plain and in some interior 
valleys again reduced available subsistence land while requiring 
very few laborers. In the 1970s, more of El Salvador's land resources 
were used for cattle grazing than for production of food crops. 

In addition, as social unrest grew among rural laborers, large 
estate owners preferred wherever possible to increase the use of 
seasonal rather than permanent workers. In the cotton- growing 
areas, for example, the number of colonos decreased by 60 to 95 
percent during the 1960s. Overall, the number of landholdings with 
colono arrangements dropped from a high of 55,000 in 1961 to 17,000 
in 1971 . Permanent agricultural workers were thought to be more 
susceptible than temporary workers to political organization and 
therefore were believed to constitute more of a potential threat to 
elite land rights. This attitude further increased the number of 
underemployed and unemployed landless laborers in the country- 
side. A few statistics illustrate the situation in general. In 1961, 
about 12 percent of the rural population was landless; by 1971 the 
figure had reached 29 percent; in 1975 the number of landless 
was estimated at 41 percent. Similarly, from 1950 to 1970 rural 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

unemployment stood at 45 to 50 percent. By 1975 only 37 percent 
of rural workers worked full time, 14 percent worked an average 
of nine months, 19 percent worked an average of six months, and 
a full 30 percent worked for only two to three months annually. 
By 1980 an estimated 65 percent of the rural population was land- 
less and dependent on wage employment. 

The small percentage of the labor force employed in industry 
was somewhat better off than agricultural workers, but only about 
12.8 percent of the labor force was employed in industry in 1961, 
and by 1971 that number had dropped to 9.8 percent (see Indus- 
try, ch. 3). Their low numbers in part reflected the use of capital- 
intensive technology, which made it unnecessary to hire a large 
work force. Jobs also were few because industry in general, and 
manufacturing in particular, remained limited as a result of capi- 
tal flight caused by political instability, the unsettled economy, and 
damaging guerrilla attacks. 

Enlisted military personnel, another component of the lower sec- 
tor, were young peasant conscripts or volunteers who had joined 
the armed forces to enjoy three meals a day and a warm place to 
sleep; some of the conscripts had been impressed into service in 
response to manpower shortages. After discharge from active duty, 
some ex-servicemen signed on for further service and benefits as 
military reservists in the GN or in civil defense groups. 

The Middle Sector 

The small proportion of society constituting a middle class — 
about 8 percent in the early 1980s — included skilled workers, 
government employees, professionals, school teachers, smallholders, 
small businessmen, and commercial employees. These people were 
caught between the polar extremes of wealth and poverty. Not being 
members of the traditional oligarchy — although the great success 
of nineteenth-century coffee production had stimulated the develop- 
ment of the middle sector as well as of the elite — the middle sector 
traditionally had little direct influence in government affairs. Simi- 
larly, although profoundly influenced by the United States, mem- 
bers of this population sector did not have sufficient wealth to enjoy 
ready access to schooling or travel in that country. Instead, hav- 
ing only a tenuous toehold on property and limited power within 
the existing Salvadoran system, the middle sector found its posi- 
tion precarious and felt seriously threatened by El Salvador's 
political and economic crises. 

After the depression of the 1930s, the middle sector hoped to 
improve the standard of living for all Salvadorans through agra- 
rian reform and through legalized peasant organizing. In the 1960s 


woman in Santa Ines, San Miguel Department 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

and early 1970s, various professionals and other members of the 
middle class tried to promote meaningful elections and called for 
a transition to more open and participatory democratic procedures. 
As economic and political crises deepened in the 1970s and 1980s, 
however, many members of the middle class became alienated by 
the rising tide of political violence. Many of these Salvadorans 
wished that the problem of "subversives" would simply go away 
so that order, stability, and economic growth could be restored. 
Others, however, chose to become increasingly active in political 
parties or popular organizations. 


In contrast to most other Central American countries, El Sal- 
vador in the late 1980s did not contain an ethnically distinct Indian 
population. Native communities of Pipil and also Lenca, located 
mainly in the western departments, constituted perhaps 60 per- 
cent of the population throughout the colonial era and into the early 
decades of independence. But the development of coffee estates saw 
the dissolution of the communal lands of native villages and the 
slow but continual incorporation of Indians into the general cash 
economy, where they became peasants and wage laborers. By the 
late nineteenth century, this assimilation process was essentially 
complete. The 1930 census, the last census containing the category 
of "Indian," designated only 5.6 percent of the population, or some 
80,000 persons, as Indian, although it is not clear what criteria 
were used in this determination. Other, possibly more accurate, 
independent estimates, however, placed the mid-twentieth-century 
Indian population at 20 percent, or close to 400,000 persons. The 
criteria used in these estimates to identify individuals as Indian 
included religious activities, distinctive women's dress, language, 
and involvement in various handicrafts. Still, the life-style of the 
majority of these people was no longer completely Indian. Most 
were ladinoized, Hispanic acculturated, monolingual Spanish 
speakers who did not wear distinctive Indian dress. The remain- 
ing Indian population was found primarily in southwestern El 

The abandonment of Indian language and customs was hastened 
by political repression after an abortive peasant/Indian uprising 
in 1932. The revolt centered in the western part of the country, 
around the former Indian towns of Ahuachapan, Santa Ana, and 
Sonsonate, where the growth of coffee estates since the late 
nineteenth century had absorbed subsistence lands of Indians and 
mestizos alike. The revolt was supported by a number of Indian 
community leaders {caciques). Even though most Indian communal 


The Society and Its Environment 

lands had been lost, traditional community-centered religious- 
political organizations (cqfradias) and their leaders remained suffi- 
ciently influential to organize and direct popular unrest. The harsh 
and bloody reprisal (la matanza) by government forces that ensued 
fell on the entire population of the region whether they had been 
combatants or not, and most had not. Perhaps as many as 30,000 
were killed, including many who were culturally designated as In- 
dian or who were deemed by government forces to have an Indian- 
like physical appearance. In the face of such racially motivated 
repression, most natives stopped wearing traditional dress, aban- 
doned the Pipil language, and adopted ladino customs. In 1975 
it was estimated that no more than 1 percent of the population wore 
distinctive Indian clothing or followed Indian customs. 

Even though visible signs of ethnic identity were all but lost, many 
persons retained an interest in Salvadoran Indian heritage and 
worked to preserve it as best they could. During the 1970s, the 
Central American University Jose Simeon Canas (Universidad 
Centroamericana Jose Simeon Canas — UCA) in San Salvador 
began a systematic study of the surviving elements of the Pipil lan- 
guage; researchers found that about one- tenth of households in Son- 
sonate, Ahuachapan, and La Libertad contained at least one Pipil 
speaker. Various aspects of Indian tradition, including dance 
ceremonies that had been held in private for thirty years, were also 
rediscovered. As political tensions grew in the 1980s, however, 
access to Indian households became more difficult, and the Pipil 
language study was stopped. 

In short, although observers have estimated that much of the Sal- 
vadoran population in the 1980s could be said to possess an Indian 
racial background, culturally there was no significant Indian ethnic 
sector in the country. Nonetheless, the concept of Indian ethnicity 
was still a rallying point. In the mid-1980s, thousands of persons 
nationwide supported a popular organization known as the National 
Association of Salvadoran Indians (Asociacion Nacional Indigena 
Salvadorena — ANIS) headquartered in Sonsonate. 

Rural Life 

As indicated, El Salvador remained a largely rural country despite 
the growth of San Salvador and its environs. For the vast majority 
of rural residents, however, land shortages, unemployment and 
underemployment, and extremely low wages combined to keep the 
standard of living low and the quality of life barely tolerable. 

Standard of Living 

In this largely agrarian society, land distribution continued to lie 
at the heart of the many problems afflicting the poor. In 1971 , which 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

as of 1988 was the date of the latest census, 92 percent of farms, 
some 250,500 in number, covered less than ten hectares each and 
together constituted only 27 percent of total farm area. These farms 
were the holdings of peasant laborers who planted basic foodstuffs 
such as corn, beans, rice, and sorghum on 95 percent of their hold- 
ings. They used rotational methods of agriculture in which individ- 
ual plots were cultivated for about two years, then left fallow while 
another plot was tilled. 

The 8 percent of the farms with an area greater than ten hec- 
tares occupied the remaining 73 percent of farm area. Within this 
category, 1,941 farms between 100 and 500 hectares in size, 
representing 0.8 percent of the total number of farms, accounted 
for 38.7 percent of all land under cultivation. Less than 20 per- 
cent of this land produced basic grains. Farms of more than 500 
hectares accounted for more than 15 percent of the cultivated land. 
These farms included the agricultural estates of the elite. The data 
actually understated the extent of land concentration within the 
upper sector, however, since some elite individuals owned more 
than one farm and some large farms were registered in the names 
of various family members in an effort to conceal family holdings. 

At the other end of the scale, there was a considerable increase 
during the 1970s in the number of farms composed of less than 
one hectare of land. These farms were on very poor soil, often on 
steep hillsides prone to erosion, and frequently were rented rather 
than owned. Such small rental farms were particularly common 
in the hilly northern departments of Chalatenango, Cuscatlan, 
Morazan, and Cabanas. In 1950 there were 70,400 such farms; 
in 1961 there were 107,000; in 1971 there were 132,000; and in 
1975 there were 138,800. Stated somewhat differently, in 1975 an 
estimated 96.3 percent of the rural population had access to five 
hectares or less of generally marginal quality land per family; ap- 
proximately seven hectares were judged necessary for a "typical" 
family of six people to produce enough food and income for its 

Wage labor was the alternative to agricultural self-sufficiency 
for the majority of rural Salvadorans. In fact, by 1980 approxi- 
mately 65 percent of the rural work force was landless and depen- 
dent on temporary or full-time wage labor; more than half the rural 
families depended on wage work for over half their income. Given 
the lack of permanent jobs in the agricultural sector, the low wage 
scale, and the number of laborers seeking work, however, cash in- 
come was insufficient for many peasant laborers in the country- 
side. In 1975, for example, a typical family of six was estimated 


The Society and Its Environment 

to need US$533 in annual income to buy the basic food needed 
to survive, yet 60 percent earned US$120 or less. 

The effect of a declining national economy in the late 1970s and 
early 1980s, as evidenced by a decline in agricultural production 
of 7.4 percent in 1982 and 8.7 percent in 1983, restricted the number 
of available jobs (see The Labor Force, ch. 3). Unemployment and 
underemployment increased markedly during the late 1970s and 
early 1980s and reached such serious proportions that by 1986, 
according to Salvadoran government statistics, 30 percent of the 
work force was unemployed and another 20 percent was underem- 
ployed (unofficial sources claimed even higher figures). Of those 
working, a reported 80 percent worked only part time, often at 
jobs lasting only a few days, or received less than the minimum 
wage. Regular day labor on a cotton or sugar estate sometimes 
provided the equivalent of US$1.75 per day or less; seasonal jobs 
at harvest sometimes paid as little as US$0.60 a day. 

In addition, even as the number of workers receiving less than 
the minimum wage increased, the buying power of that wage 
declined by 65 percent from 1979 to 1983, further aggravating the 
already serious economic problems of the poor. The minimum diet 
was very sparse, consisting of maize, beans, rice, sorghum, and, 
for a family of six, less than one kilogram of meat per month and 
a per capita caloric intake that was the lowest in the Western 
Hemisphere. Consumption levels in general fell by 27 percent be- 
tween 1979 and 1981 and by a further 20 percent by 1984; the over- 
all cost of living rose 98 percent during the 1979-84 period. Clothing 
and foodstuffs — items on which some 63 percent of all Salvadoran 
families spent 62 to 65 percent of their income — rose by 153 and 
122 percent, respectively. 

Poverty encouraged the additional hardship of broken families, 
a particularly acute problem among landless laborers who often 
had to move to find work. By 1980 about 25 percent of households 
were headed by women, partially as a result of men leaving the 
family unit in search of work. That over 60 percent of children 
were born out of wedlock was another indication of familial insta- 

Health and Welfare 

Insufficient income had a serious adverse effect on the general 
health and vitality of the rural population. In the mid-1980s, El 
Salvador was among the countries of the Western Hemisphere most 
seriously affected by malnutrition. During the 1970s, the poorer 
50 percent of the population consumed, on average, only 63 percent 
of required calories and 56 percent of required protein according 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

to accepted international guidelines for adequate nutrition; the over- 
all population averaged 77.2 percent of the minimum standard for 
caloric consumption and 83.6 percent of the standard for protein 
consumption. Anemia, riboflavin deficiencies, and vitamin A and 
other vitamin deficiencies were widespread among the population. 

Malnutrition was particularly prevalent among young children. 
Even before the upset caused by civil conflict during the 1980s, 
approximately 48.5 percent of children under five years of age 
suffered from mild malnutrition, 22.9 percent from moderate mal- 
nutrition requiring medical attention to cure, and 3.1 percent from 
severe malnutrition requiring hospitalization for adequate recov- 
ery. Stated differently, 80 percent of children suffered from at least 
first-degree malnutrition — 10 to 24 percent underweight — and 5 
percent suffered from third-degree malnutrition — over 40 percent 
underweight. Because pregnant women usually lacked proper nutri- 
tion as well, many children were born underweight and under- 

The poverty responsible for inadequate nourishment among cam- 
pesinos was also reflected in substandard homes and living condi- 
tions. In some regions, land for housing and domestic life was 
limited to an absolute minimum by the expansion of private es- 
tates. Some closely crowded groups of huts were strung along the 
remaining narrow strips of public lands bordering highways and 
rivers or erected on narrow peripheries between the fenced bound- 
aries of estates closed to resident laborers and the nearest public 
road, in an arrangement called "fence housing." 

Rural homes typically sheltered four or more persons. They 
usually had one, sometimes two, rooms, dirt floors, walls of adobe 
brick or bahareque (wood frame with a mud or rubble fill) or of poles 
and straw, and thatched or tiled roofs. The kitchen commonly was 
in a separate shelter or located under an extension of the main roof. 
Even in the 1980s, almost none of the rural population had access 
to sewage systems. Some 12 percent had latrines or septic tanks, 
but 80 percent had no sanitation facilities. Surface water was seri- 
ously polluted by agriculture and industry, yet 60 percent of the 
rural population depended on rivers and streams and/or rainwater 
and 22 percent on wells for their water needs. Some 93 percent 
were without electricity and used kerosene lamps or candles for 
light and wood or charcoal for cooking and heat. 

Conditions such as these, combined with malnutrition, produced 
high rates of chronic illness and high mortality, especially in in- 
fants and young children. Although families of three to four chil- 
dren were considered the most desirable size, rural women actually 
had an average of six to eight children and, given the high infant 


Nurse in rural health post administering an injection 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 

death rate (about 120 to 125 per 1,000 live births) often had twice 
as many pregnancies. In general, about 30 percent of all deaths 
per year were of children under the age of one, and another 14 
percent occurred in the age- group from one to four. 

Several diseases posed particularly serious problems. Malaria 
was of major concern in rural departments, with morbidity ranges 
between 4,100 and 1,800 per 100,000 inhabitants in the 1980s. 
Water-borne diseases were also particularly common and one of 
the major factors affecting mortality. In the 1970s and 1980s, the 
leading causes of death included enteritis and other diarrheal dis- 
eases, as well as pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, such 
as bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Nutritional insufficiencies, 
perinatal complications, infections, and parasitic diseases also took 
a high toll, especially among children (see table 3, Appendix). As 
of 1987, El Salvador had reported sixteen cases of acquired im- 
mune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), the lowest total of any Cen- 
tral American country except Belize. Of the sixteen, six victims 
had died. 

High mortality rates reflected the fact that health care itself was 
limited and medical facilities for the general population inadequate. 
This condition was aggravated by the civil disturbances of the 1980s. 
The 1971 census indicated that there were three doctors and seven- 
teen hospital beds for every 10,000 persons. In 1984 ten general 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

hospitals and twelve health centers, in addition to several hundred 
other community posts and dispensaries, provided between 0.5 and 
1.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants outside the San Salvador metropoli- 
tan area. Some rural regions did not have any hospital facilities. 
Where rural hospitals existed, health care personnel frequently were 
hampered in their work by limited equipment and supplies and 
unsanitary conditions. These conditions made it difficult to meet 
even the ordinary medical needs of the rural population. For exam- 
ple, most births took place at home, sometimes with the assistance 
of relatives or neighbors, but often unassisted. 

Rural areas were deprived of sufficient government-financed 
social programs in part because of a longstanding governmental 
preference to keep taxes low and to concentrate the provision of 
services in San Salvador. The situation was exacerbated by 
increased military spending during the 1980s, as the budget allo- 
cations for the Ministry of Public Health and Social Services 
declined in real terms. Similarly, the number of medical person- 
nel available to work in rural areas declined drastically after the 
Medical School of the National University was closed in 1980, end- 
ing the flow of interns, who had provided much of the medical care 
in the countryside. In addition, many doctors and other health 
workers in rural areas either relocated or abandoned their efforts 
as a result of the intensifying civil conflict in the 1980s. 

The government, particularly through the Ministry of Public 
Health and Social Services, recognized as national priorities the 
need for improvement of health services, control of malaria, im- 
proved sanitation and drinking water quality, and increased child 
survival. It pledged to follow various lines of action toward these 

Social security was another government benefit to which rural 
Sal^adorans had far less access than urban dwellers. The social secu- 
rity system was administered by the Salvadoran Social Security 
Institute, an autonomous institution first established in 1949. Its 
medical benefits and pension system, implemented in 1969, cov- 
ered employees in industry and commerce but excluded agricul- 
tural workers, domestics, casual employees, and civil servants. The 
latter were covered by a different system. The institute also ad- 
ministered a number of hospitals throughout the country. Individ- 
uals (and their spouses) covered by the system were entitled to 
sickness and maternity benefits, care for work-related injuries, and 
pensions on the basis of old age or disability. The system was funded 
by payroll deductions from the insured, as well as by employer and 
government contributions. 


The Society and Its Environment 


Public education was a higher priority than health care for 
government spending, and statistics reflected this disparity. School 
attendance and literacy in general increased notably in El Salvador 
as a whole during the twentieth century, particularly during the 
1960s, when an ambitious program of school construction was car- 
ried out. Officially, literacy increased from 26.2 percent of the adult 
population in 1930 to 59.7 percent in 1971. By 1980 only 31 per- 
cent of the population aged ten years or older was considered 

The Salvadoran education system included one year of preschool, 
nine years of basic education, three years of secondary education, 
and higher education at two universities and several specialized 
postsecondary institutions. The curriculum at the basic and secon- 
dary levels, developed by the Ministry of Education, was uniform 
throughout the country. The provision of education, however, 
suffered from a rural-urban dichotomy. Countrywide statistics dis- 
played the weakness of the school system on the secondary level; 
in a 1976 study, only 34 percent of students reached grade nine, 
and 15 percent reached grade twelve. 

In the 1970s, primary- school enrollment increased by 90 per- 
cent. The benefit of such schooling, however, disproportionately 
favored urban areas, especially San Salvador, even though the 
majority of the illiterate population lived in rural areas. Stated differ- 
ently, in 1980 about 40 percent of the rural population over age 
ten was illiterate, as compared with 25 percent of the urban dwellers. 
In the 1970s, fewer than two-thirds of school-age rural children 
attended primary schools, as compared with more than 90 percent 
of their urban counterparts. About 8 percent of the country's total 
enrollment in middle secondary education, grades seven through 
nine, were rural children; at the upper secondary level, grades ten 
through twelve, about 1 percent were rural children. In addition, 
illiteracy was twice as prevalent among women as among men; only 
about 30 percent of higher education students were female. 

The high degree of rural illiteracy reflected several factors. At 
the most basic level, the number of teachers and schools provided 
for rural areas was seriously inadequate. In the 1970s, only 15 per- 
cent of the nation's schoolteachers served in rural areas; although 
64 percent of primary schools were in rural areas, only 2 percent 
of secondary schools were. Existing rural schools were able to ac- 
commodate only 43 percent of the rural school-age population. Fur- 
thermore, of the primary schools available for rural children, 
approximately 70 percent offered education only below grade five. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

By contrast, 90 percent of urban primary schools offered grade five 
or above. In rural areas, the 1976 student-to-teacher ratio was sixty 
to one, as compared with forty to one in urban areas. 

In addition, there was a high attrition rate in school attendance 
in rural areas as students left school to earn incomes or work at 
home. It is significant that although school attendance generally 
began at about the age of eight or nine, about 70 percent of all 
male workers began work before the age of fifteen, many by age 
ten or earlier, thus permitting only one or two years of schooling. 
Many girls also dropped out of school at an early age to assume 
domestic responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings, work- 
ing in the fields, or tending animals. Therefore, in 1976 only about 
20 percent of rural school-age children reached grade six, and only 
5.7 percent reached grade nine. 

Efforts to improve this situation in the rural agricultural areas 
were somewhat discouraging, in part because of the political ten- 
sions of the 1980s. In some situations, teachers, mainly women, 
faced threats if they were thought to be supporters of political 
change. Furthermore, many rural landowners seemed to prefer an 
uneducated rural population, on the grounds that better educated 
workers would expect better wages and be more likely to organize 
and lobby the government for reform, particularly land reform. 
A number of national education plans developed by the Ministry 
of Education had recognized the disparity between rural and urban 
education, but none had succeeded in bringing rural education up 
to the urban level. 


Salvadoran migratory patterns have been shaped by socio- 
economic problems such as insufficient land, limited job opportu- 
nities, low wages, and persistent poverty. Some Salvadorans 
emigrated permanently from the country, some moved within the 
rural area itself, and some moved to urban areas in search of a 
better life. Internal and external migration levels were augmented 
by the civil conflict of the 1980s, although family and community 
fragmentation and dislocation were long-standing characteristics 
of life for the lower class. These patterns can be traced to the latter 
half of the nineteenth century, when communal landholdings were 
dissolved to facilitate the expansion of private holdings. This action 
created a dispossessed labor force whose movements came to be 
dictated by the cycles of coffee production. 

Seasonal migrations from home communities to cash crop es- 
tates at times of harvest have been a way of life for many rural 
dwellers ever since coffee production came to dominate the 


Moncagua displaced persons settlement, San Miguel Department 
Courtesy United States Agency for International Development 

Salvadoran economy (see The Oligarchy and the Liberal State, 
ch. 1). This type of migration was particularly important for land- 
poor peasants from the relatively infertile northern departments, 
hundreds of thousands of whom sought seasonal work in the cen- 
tral coffee regions. Similarly, as cotton farming developed in the 
coastal zone, both permanent laborers and thousands of seasonal 
harvest workers followed, particularly to land east of the Rio Lempa 
and within the Sonsonate coastal plain in the southwest. 

Between 1945 and 1969, population increase and land loss, par- 
ticularly to cotton estates, led as many as 300,000 workers and 
dispossessed peasants — about 7 percent of the Salvadoran popula- 
tion — to migrate to neighboring Honduras. There, as farm laborers, 
squatters, tenants, or small farmers, they joined the land-poor rural 
population or moved to provincial towns where they were subsumed 
into the Honduran labor force. By the late 1960s, these Salvador- 
ans constituted 12 percent or more of the Honduran population, 
and they had established contacts among that population, which 
was involved in its own agrarian reform efforts. The Honduran 
government targeted Salvadoran immigrants as the principal im- 
pediment to land redistribution efforts, encouraging anti-Salvadoran 
sentiments in an attempt to diffuse tensions among Honduran 
peasants and agricultural workers. In the wake of the ensuing Hon- 
duran agrarian reform, in which only native Hondurans were 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

allowed to own land, as many as 130,000 Salvadorans were forced, 
or chose, to give up whatever jobs or land they had acquired and 
return to El Salvador. The exodus of Salvadorans from Honduras 
contributed to the so-called "Soccer War" of 1969 between the 
two countries, and the large number of returning Salvadorans wors- 
ened social and economic tensions within El Salvador itself. 

In spite of ongoing tension with Honduras, Salvadorans con- 
tinued to emigrate to that country, not only as landless laborers 
seeking work but, in the early 1980s, as refugees fleeing the civil 
conflict in El Salvador. Honduras seemed a logical refuge for many, 
given its proximity to the bordering Salvadoran departments of 
Morazan, Cabanas, and Chalatenango, all areas suffering under 
the civil conflict during the early 1980s. In 1981 some 60,000 refu- 
gees were in Honduras, many, particularly women and children, 
in refugee camps near the border, camps administered under the 
auspices of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner 
for Refugees. 

Life was somewhat uncertain in the camps because of the un- 
settled circumstances stemming from the Salvadoran conflict. These 
pressures, as well as the monotony of life in the camps, induced 
thousands of Salvadorans to return home in spite of the dangers 
posed by ongoing warfare. In 1987 a reported 19,000 to 20,000 
refugees still resided in camps in Honduras, the majority of whom 
were children and the rest mainly women and the elderly. 

Some 20,000 Salvadoran refugees also sought sanctuary in 
Nicaragua, and an estimated 80,000 to 1 10,000 more relocated to 
Guatemala and thence to Mexico, many ultimately hoping to reach 
the United States. Indeed, between 1979 and 1988 as many as 
500,000 Salvadorans were estimated to have reached the United 
States, the majority via Mexico. In overall terms, the extent of Sal- 
vadoran emigration to foreign countries was such that the United 
Nations (UN) in 1982 estimated that one-third of the work force 
had left the country. The number of refugees and displaced per- 
sons in general was estimated at 1 million, or 20 percent of the 
population, roughly half of whom had left the country. 

Displaced persons remaining in El Salvador, internal refugees 
uprooted by the civil conflict, followed several migratory patterns. 
Some moved from one rural area to another; for example, some 
migrants from the war zones of the east moved to the far western 
provinces, where guerrilla groups were less active. Some fled from 
smaller cities and towns to the countryside, where the number of 
internally displaced persons was estimated at close to 250,000 in 
the early 1980s. The highest concentration of refugees, however, 


Displaced family, Moncagua 
Courtesy United States Agency for International Development 

was found in the war-torn departments of Chalatenango, Morazan, 
and Cabanas. 

In the early 1980s, many dislocated rural persons traveled to San 
Salvador seeking help largely through the auspices of the Roman 
Catholic Church. Conditions for these refugees were less than ideal, 
as many faced severe overcrowding, continued malnutrition and 
illness, and harassment from security forces in the camps where 
they sought shelter. Others faced extreme poverty in makeshift slum 
settlements, trying to earn a living as street vendors. 

Urban Life 

Well before the civil conflict of the 1980s, rural-urban migra- 
tion was an economic fact of life in El Salvador. Most rural migrants 
were attracted to the capital, San Salvador. Yet prospects for a better 
life were limited in the cities too, and El Salvador did not experience 
a rush to urban migration on the same scale as most other Latin 
American countries. 


In general, urbanization in El Salvador was stimulated by the 
success of coffee as an export crop and the growth and transfor- 
mation of the wealthy coffee elite from a nineteenth-century rural 
gentry into a twentieth-century national elite. The political and 
economic dominance of the coffee oligarchy was particularly respon- 
sible for the growth of the San Salvador metropolitan area and, 
to a lesser extent, that of El Salvador's second city, Santa Ana. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

During the nineteenth century, in fact, Santa Ana, situated in the 
heart of the coffee region, was the largest city in El Salvador. Both 
Santa Ana in the west and San Miguel in the east started as agricul- 
tural towns and regional centers; over time, both developed small 
industrial bases and commercial and service establishments. 

Both these cities, however, were overshadowed by the growth 
of San Salvador. Over the years, especially during export agricul- 
ture ''boom" periods, a portion of the earnings made by the elite 
was used to develop and support San Salvador as a modern urban 
center, using European and then North American models as a 
guide. Municipal services, communications, and transportation in- 
frastructures were established to support the agricultural export 
trade. Small manufacturing and food-processing establishments de- 
veloped, along with fledgling construction, commercial, and trans- 
port activities. A small middle class of civilian and military public 
employees, commercial middlemen, and small businessmen 
emerged. Educational, health, and welfare services were instituted, 
and urban workers, students, and artisans were allowed, within 
limits, to organize mutual aid associations, such as cooperatives, 
savings associations, and clubs, and to present grievances before 
the government. 

Urban migration appealed to some members of the rural sector 
more than others. Persons leaving the northern departments were 
drawn to urban areas in large numbers. In addition, the capital, 
which attracted more than 90 percent of urban migrants, generally 
offered greater employment opportunities and better pay to women 
than to men, encouraging a relatively high percentage of women 
to trade rural for urban life. In the countryside, government regu- 
lations either restricted labor opportunities for women or compen- 
sated them at a lower rate. Similarly, income derivable from rural 
women's traditional handicraft production declined in the face of 
competition from urban manufactured goods; as a result, these 
traditional handicraft items were devalued both literally and figura- 
tively. Partially as a result of such pressures, 44 percent of the urban 
labor force was female by 1975, compared with only 14 percent 
of the rural labor force. In fact, however, the participation of women 
in the rural work force probably was larger because many women 
effectively worked without pay during coffee or cotton harvests. 
Only men or heads of household officially contracted to provide 
labor, although women and children might work in men's crews. 
Thus, only men had a right to weekly payment, and only men had 
the legal right to a daily food allowance. When women were paid, 
their wages generally were one- third less than men's. 


The Society and Its Environment 

Stated differently, two- thirds of female workers in 1975 were em- 
ployed in urban areas, predominantly in San Salvador; they worked 
at a wide variety of low- skill jobs characterized by low pay, long 
hours, and a lack of benefits or legal protections. The most com- 
mon of these occupations was work as domestics in upper- and 
middle-class households and as street vendors, even though vend- 
ing was against the law and vendors faced police harassment. Some 
women also found jobs in factories in the free-zone area of the cap- 
ital, where North American-owned pharmaceutical and textile fac- 
tories preferred to hire women because they were thought to be 
more reliable workers than men (see Foreign Economic Relations, 
ch. 3). Many women, especially the least educated, engaged in 

Quality of Life 

Given the nature of available work, urban centers offered rela- 
tively little improvement in job opportunities for rural migrants. 
Although a small percentage of the work force was organized into 
labor unions, wages generally were kept low in the urban as well 
as in the rural sector. During the 1970s, an estimated 90 percent 
of urban workers received less than the legal minimum wage. In 
1977 the average daily wage in urban manufacturing and service 
sectors was the equivalent of US$2.80. In 1983 observers estimated 
that a family needed 3.7 wage earners to buy a basic basket of goods. 
According to government figures, only 53,467 workers earned 
enough to buy the basic basket, while 1,283,058 did not. Of those 
who did not, approximately 800,000 could buy no more than 25 
percent of the basic basket. In terms of purchasing power, poor 
urban workers earned about the same income as landless rural work- 
ers, so there was not a strong economic incentive for urban 
migration. In fact, like landless rural laborers, underemployed or 
unemployed city dwellers sometimes sought seasonal work as har- 
vesters on agricultural estates. 

The urban job market reflected the state of industrialization and 
manufacturing in El Salvador. During the decade of the 1960s, 
manufacturing growth was strong as the Central American Com- 
mon Market enhanced export opportunities (see Manufacturing, 
ch. 3). During this period, the total number of persons employed 
in industry, including coffee, sugar, and cotton processing, in- 
creased markedly, mainly in San Salvador. The increase in 
manufacturing jobs, however, was not as great; this was attributable 
in part to the generally capital-intensive nature of manufacturing 
in El Salvador. 


Street in Mercado Central District, San Salvador 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Although the total number of industrial jobs grew, these jobs 
actually declined as a proportion of the total labor market during 
the 1960s, dropping from about 13 percent in 1961 to about 10 
percent in 1971 . Consequently, many urban workers displaced by 
manufacturing technology and newcomers from rural areas were 
forced into the informal job sector or into petty thievery and simi- 
lar activities. 

Because the cities, and especially San Salvador, were also the 
home, indeed the stronghold, of the elite, by the early twentieth 
century San Salvador displayed a sharp dichotomy between great 
wealth and extreme poverty, between those who owned expensive 
automobiles and those who walked barefoot beside ox carts. These 
differences became more pronounced during the course of the twen- 
tieth century. The families of the oligarchy and the high ranks of 
the military lived in material comfort and in a rather insulated 
fashion, avoiding contact with the poor, who were ridiculed, 
deprecated, and despised but also feared by the urban wealthy. 
The elite emulated West European and North American values 
and life-styles, emphasizing material goods, conspicuous consump- 
tion, and the "good life." 

The city gave clear evidence of the social tensions and crises exist- 
ing between the rich and the poor. Nowhere was this better illus- 
trated than in the area of housing, which evidenced a severe shortage 
for the majority of poor and a kind of fortress mentality among 
the elite. Housing problems were dramatically increased in October 
1986 by an earthquake centered on San Salvador, which left more 
than 200,000 homeless. 

Of the 858,000 persons living in San Salvador in 1980, an esti- 
mated 643,000 lived in slum settiements either in the center of the 
city or on the periphery. Squatter communities included those newly 
arrived from the countryside as well as the long-term urban poor 
who, given the extensive unemployment and lack of opportunity 
in general, had not managed to improve their standard of living, 
in the approximately 100 tugurios (shantytowns), single-room dwell- 
ings were constructed of tin, cardboard, and cloth, sometimes with 
bahareque walls and tiled roofs. The majority had dirt floors, no elec- 
tricity, and no access to any kind of water and sewage services. 
These hovels typically were crowded onto nationally or municipally 
owned land, such as riverbeds or rights-of-way. 

Dozens of similar settlements also appeared on privately owned 
land held for speculation and rented at exorbitant rates. Often 
shanties were erected on such land before the owner was aware 
of the fact, and rent was a matter subsequently worked out between 
the squatters and the landowner. Just as municipal or national 


The Society and Its Environment 

authorities did not guarantee permanent settlement on tugurio sites, 
so private landowners were not reconciled to permanent settlement 
by the tenants on their land and attempted to evict them if a more 
lucrative use for the land emerged. 

Slums of a different sort, called mesones, were located in the cen- 
tral city. They were privately owned single- story compounds com- 
posed of a connected series of five, ten, or twenty or more rooms, 
each roughly four meters square, surrounding a common court- 
yard. Mesones typically lacked washing or cooking facilities; some 
included access to a common latrine. Each room was rented to a 
separate tenant, either an individual or a small family. Residents 
of mesones contrasted with those oitugurios in household size, as the 
latter tended to live in larger and more heterogeneous households, 
partly because of the general lack of landlord or government con- 
trol over their living conditions. 

Legally constructed private housing equipped with modern fa- 
cilities and appliances was available only for middle- and upper- 
class Salvadorans. The homes of the elite, many of them located 
on the clean streets of San Benito, the wealthiest neighborhood in 
San Salvador, typically were surrounded by walls two to three 
meters high or more, topped with barbed wire and sometimes elec- 
trified. Watchtowers, gun ports, and closed-circuit television sys- 
tems to monitor the grounds were not uncommon. 

In urban slums, as in rural areas, poor housing, inadequate and 
unsafe water, poor sanitation, and overcrowding created medical 
problems, particularly infectious diseases, that compounded the ill 
effects of such poor living conditions. The urban infant mortality 
rate was, however, lower than the rural infant mortality rate (85 
and 120 per 1,000 live births, respectively, in the mid-1970s). 

Well-to-do Salvadorans had far better access than lower-class Sal- 
vadorans to medical facilities and social security benefits, especially 
in urban areas. Health service delivery, though planned on a nation- 
wide scale, clearly favored urban dwellers (see Health and Wel- 
fare, this ch.). 

Better education also was available in the city, and more people 
were able to take advantage of it. In 1976 about 61.7 percent of 
urban students reached the ninth grade, as compared with 5.7 per- 
cent of rural students. Some 90 percent of urban children attended 
primary school, and over 90 percent of all national enrollment in 
grades seven through twelve was urban. Nonetheless, the urban 
poor had the least likelihood of pursuing education beyond one or 
two years of primary classes, since school attendance required cash 
outlays for materials, special activities, or uniforms. Primary-school- 
age children, especially boys, also were able to earn a few centavos 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

(100 centavos equals 1 Salvadoran colon; for value of the colon — 
see Glossary) on the streets with odd jobs, such as selling news- 
papers, shining shoes, running errands, or watching cars, to sup- 
plement the family income. 

University training was an important part of the urban educa- 
tion program in San Salvador, where university enrollment reached 
35,000 in the 1970s. The main campus of the National Univer- 
sity, or University of El Salvador, was located in the capital, but 
branch campuses were also found in the secondary cities, such as 
Santa Ana. 

Traditionally, the National University enjoyed a high degree of 
institutional autonomy in its activities in spite of a long tradition 
of politically active students. As the political and economic problems 
of the nation deepened during the 1970s, however, the university 
came to function not only as a lively and protected forum for po- 
litical dialogue but also as a haven for political activists, a center 
for communication and coordination of activities among politically 
active opposition groups, and a recruiting source for radical leftist 
guerrilla groups. All the mass organizations associated with the 
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo 
Marti de Liberation Nacional — FMLN) and the Revolutionary 
Democratic Front (Frente Democratico Revolucionario — FDR) 
came to have offices there, and the university was used as a press 
and a public forum by their representatives (see Political Parties, 
ch. 4; Left-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). 

This situation changed abruptly in 1980 when the army closed 
the San Salvador campus based on evidence that it was being used 
as an armory and refuge by members of guerrilla groups. The 
university staff continued to operate on a greatiy reduced, makeshift 
basis from rented space scattered throughout the city, enabling some 
10,000 university students to continue their studies. In the violent 
atmosphere that prevailed at that time, some staff members were 
targeted for attack by right-wing groups, some were arrested, and 
the university rector was assassinated. With the closing of the 
university campus, some twenty-five private universities, with a 
combined enrollment of 25,000 persons, sprang up. These schools 
were both far more expensive to attend than the National Univer- 
sity, which had charged only the equivalent of US$36 for annual 
tuition, and more conservative in attitude. 

The Jesuit-operated Central American University Jose Simeon 
Canas (Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Canas — UCA), 
originally established in 1966 by the elite to provide a conserva- 
tive Catholic education for their children, continued to operate. 
The staff developed more liberal leanings than its oligarchical 


Campus of the Jesuit-run Central American University 
Jose Simeon Canas, San Salvador 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 

supporters originally intended, however. Members of the faculty 
and administration strongly supported political and economic re- 
forms and published political, social, and economic studies on na- 
tional and regional affairs. Although the university remained open 
during the 1980s, it was not immune from rightist attacks on its 
faculty and facilities. 

Social Dynamics 

The conditions of economic and social inequality that defined the 
basic cleavages within Salvadoran society also generated strong politi- 
cal and ideological dynamics within and among groups pressing either 
for change or for maintenance of the status quo. Further insights into 
the nature of Salvadoran life, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, 
may be obtained by considering the following within that broader 
societal context: the impact of governmental agrarian reform pro- 
grams; the reaction of portions of the general populace, particularly 
popular organizations and guerrilla groups, to the political and eco- 
nomic climate; and the positions and actions taken by the Roman 
Catholic Church and by Protestant missionaries in these matters. 

Agrarian Reform 

During the 1970s, as Salvadoran emigrants returned from 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Honduras, increased pressure for available land pushed the issue 
of agrarian reform to the forefront of national life. Various peasant 
and trade union organizations, with the tacit support of many 
others, including middle-sector business people, professionals, and 
public-sector employees, as well as certain church groups, increased 
their activities and demonstrations in support of reform. The 
response from the military-controlled government stressed the main- 
tenance of public order, through repression if necessary, over politi- 
cal change. The polarizing effect of this attitude prompted concerned 
pro-reform military officers to take power in 1979. One of the pri- 
orities of the junta governments that followed was agrarian reform 
(see The Reformist Coup of 1979, ch. 1). 

Peasant organizations were disorganized, mainly as a result of 
violent actions directed against their members by right-wing groups, 
and were unable to exert much influence on the junta government 
at the time of the original agrarian reform decree in 1980. For its 
part, the government also failed to consult with these groups 
regarding the best ways to proceed in such an undertaking. Hav- 
ing the most to lose in this process, the majority of the economic 
elite, particularly the agrarian and financial interests, bitterly op- 
posed such measures on principle. These interests had opposed — 
and successfully defeated in the planning stage — several earlier 
agrarian reform measures suggested by previous governments (see 
The 1970s: The Road to Revolt, ch. 1). 

The overall agrarian reform program was to be implemented 
in three phases, only the first of which achieved any effective results. 
Phase I called for the expropriation of all landholdings over 500 
hectares, with owners allowed to keep as "reserve" 100 to 150 hect- 
ares, depending on land quality, in order to continue farming. The 
government, aided by the army, expropriated over 230 estates, com- 
prising 15 percent of El Salvador's farmland (or 10 percent, if 
reserve lands are excluded). This included 14 percent of total coffee 
land, 31 percent of cotton land, and 24 percent of sugarcane land; 
over 60 percent of the expropriated holdings, however, were pasture 
or fallow land, including forests and mountains not well suited to 

The expropriated estates were not subdivided, but were turned 
into cooperatives run by a hierarchy of skilled managers and un- 
skilled laborers. Under this arrangement, little changed in terms 
of day-to-day operations. In spite of the communal implications 
of the cooperative concept, the traditional social hierarchy of 
managers and unskilled labor remained. In many cases, the same 
administrators, who still had strong ties with previous landlords 
and their interests, gave the same orders to the same workers, who 


The Society and Its Environment 

saw little evidence of change in their day-to-day situation. The 
former landowners initially continued to derive income from 
production on the cooperatives, as part of the cooperatives' profits 
went to an agrarian reform fund from which the former owners 
were to be compensated. In addition, because the former land- 
owners could retain 100 hectares, they were often able to keep con- 
trol of the best land or of processing facilities, which, if necessary, 
could be reclassified as urban properties. Some landowners also 
had sufficient time to begin to decapitalize their farms. Some had 
removed livestock and machinery; others had slaughtered cattle 
rather than transfer them to the newly created cooperatives. These 
actions significantly reduced the value of the cooperatives, espe- 
cially considering that the majority of land affected by Phase I was 

Since the members of the cooperatives included only the few full- 
time workers on estates at the time of expropriation, which took 
place during an off-season period of low labor needs, Phase I did 
not affect the majority of the population in these regions. Similarly, 
because the expropriated estates were located in the coastal plain 
and central valleys, they did not benefit landless peasants in the 
north and east. Of an original 317 cooperatives, 22 had been aban- 
doned by 1987 as a result of inadequate technical and credit as- 
sistance from the government, as well as the adverse economic 
effects of the civil conflict. 

As of 1987, Phase II of the agrarian reform program had not 
been implemented. The official explanation for the prolonged in- 
action cited shortcomings in administrative expertise and finan- 
cial resources; unofficially, political pressures appeared to be equally 
influential. Phase II originally called for expropriation of all es- 
tates between 100 and 500 hectares in size. Many larger landowners, 
sensing that land reform was imminent, had previously divided 
their larger estates among family members, and their holdings, in- 
cluding many coffee estates, now fell within this range. 

The junta governments' failure to implement Phase II allowed 
the Constituent Assembly to redefine the provisions of land reform 
that eventually were incorporated into the Constitution of 1983 (see 
The Constitution of 1983, ch. 4). The assembly, dominated by 
representatives of conservative political parties, raised the ceiling 
on maximum allowable landholdings from 100 to 245 hectares. This 
had the effect of reducing the amount of land available for redis- 
tribution from about 72,400 hectares, or 5 percent of Salvadoran 
farmland, to about 54,300 hectares, or 3.7 percent of farmland. 
Owners of medium- sized farms had been prohibited by the origi- 
nal 1980 reform decree from selling their holdings; the assembly 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

now granted these owners up to three years to sell their excess hold- 
ings to peasants or peasant associations. This provision shifted the 
onus of reallocation of land from the government to the landowners, 
thus ameliorating somewhat the problem of inadequate government 
resources for this purpose. 

Phase III, also known as the Land to the Tiller program, man- 
dated that ownership of land that was leased, rented, or share- 
cropped would be transferred to the tiller. Implementation of this 
phase was slow and difficult. If fully realized, Phase III was pro- 
jected to involve some 13.6 percent of farmland and some 1 17,000 
peasant families. Each beneficiary was allowed to seek title to no 
more than seven hectares; in practice, given the small size of exist- 
ing rental plots, many were granted title to plots well below that 
size; as of 1987, the average Phase III beneficiary had been granted 
title to a plot of less than two hectares. 

By mid-1987 only 56,188 potential beneficiaries had applied for 
title to 79,142 parcels of land. The granting of definitive titles was 
hampered by bureaucratic inefficiency and chronic budget short- 
falls, so that the overwhelming majority of claimants were forced 
to continue working the land under provisional title. The failure 
to grant even provisional titles to the remaining 60,000 or so poten- 
tial beneficiaries was attributed in part to the inability of the govern- 
ment to contact all of these small farmers. Furthermore, the 
seven-hectare limit, also referred to as the retention rule, excluded 
some 12,000 beneficiaries who did not farm their land directly but 
were landlords of smallholdings. In its early stages, implementa- 
tion of Phase III was also complicated by the illegal eviction of 
peasants by landowners. 

Moreover, the involvement of army personnel in the implemen- 
tation of agrarian reform led to an upsurge in combat between 
government and guerrilla forces in the countryside. This was the 
case particularly in the northern departments of Chalatenango, 
Morazan, and Cuscatlan, where there were few privately owned 
estates but where rural mass organizations were influential. The 
heightened army presence, combined with population dislocation, 
reportedly contributed to increased civil unrest in these areas. 

Revolutionary Groups 

During the 1960s and 1970s, some of the population sought 
expression and perhaps eventual redress for their problems by be- 
coming involved in a wide variety of "mass organizations" (also 
known as popular organizations), such as those included in the 
Revolutionary Coordinator of the Masses (Coordinadora Revolu- 
cionaria de las Masas — CRM) (see The Reformist Coup of 1979, 


The Society and Its Environment 

ch. 1). These groups, once tens of thousands strong, were heavily 
urban oriented and included a range of trade unionists, teachers, 
clergy, professionals, students, and other middle-class and urban 
lower-class workers interested in social and economic reform. The 
tactics of the mass organizations included strikes, street demon- 
strations, mass rallies, and occupation of public buildings (churches, 
government buildings, and embassies), factories, and farms. 

In the countryside, the mass organizations found some support 
among landless campesinos mainly in the hills around the cen- 
tral valleys and in the northern mountains (the departments 
of Chalatenango, San Salvador, Cuscatlan, Cabanas, and San 
Vicente). Laborers on the coastal plain, where estate owners and 
administrators exercised greater influence, showed less enthusiasm 
for the mass organizations. 

Whereas some of the rural poor hoped to exert pressure for 
change through participation in the popular organizations, others 
joined the ranks of more conservative, officially sanctioned organi- 
zations. One of these, the Salvadoran Communal Union (Union 
Comunal Salvadorefia — UCS), begun in 1966, sought to address 
the needs of small farmers through limited programs of technical 
assistance and credit facilities. By 1980 the UCS claimed 100,000 

Another peasant organization, the Nationalist Democratic Or- 
ganization (Organizacion Democratica Nacionalista — Orden), 
claimed as many as 100,000 members in the late 1970s. Established 
in the 1960s under military rule, Orden had close ties to the GN 
(see The Security Forces, ch. 5). In return for cooperation with 
the GN in areas such as intelligence and civil defense, members 
of Orden were eligible for benefits such as favorable credit terms 
on government agricultural loans, priority consideration for per- 
manent estate jobs, and employment on public works project. Orden 
was disbanded officially by a decree of the first 1979 junta govern- 
ment, but some observers believed that it continued to function 
unofficially after that date. 

In the 1970s, activists from mass organizations joined the ranks 
of various guerrilla organizations (see The 1970s: The Road to 
Revolt, ch. 1; Left-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). Guerrilla member- 
ship was diverse and included trade unionists, students, teachers, 
other disaffected members of the middle class, urban workers, and 

In early 1981 , Salvadoran guerrilla groups who were united under 
the banner of the FMLN estimated that they controlled 10 per- 
cent of Salvadoran territory. By 1983 the FMLN's claims had risen 
to 30 percent. Although guerrilla forces exerted influence over 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

certain areas, they had not achieved control in the sense of being 
able to secure territory against concerted efforts, usually "sweeps" 
by at least battalion-sized units, by government forces to reestab- 
lish access. Generally, the guerrilla movement was most active to 
the north and to the east of the Rio Lempa, in the departments 
of Chalatenango, Cabanas, Morazan, Cuscatlan, San Vicente, and 
Usulutan. Guerrilla activities were less frequent in the more af- 
fluent western half of the country, roughly to the west of the Rio 

From the guerrilla perspective, El Salvador was seen as divided 
into three different "fields of struggle" depending on the nature 
of their activities there. The "liberated areas" or "zones of con- 
trol, ' ' in the north and east, were areas where communications with 
the rest of the country had been cut off, where the government 
and the military had not established a permanent presence, and 
where strings of guerrilla camps exerted influence over the local 
population. The so-called "disputed" areas in the central part of 
the country were contested by guerrilla forces living among the rural 
population and by government forces stationed in towns. The third 
area, the cities, experienced comparatively little open antigovern- 
ment violence, although sporadic terrorist actions by both rightist 
and leftist groups persisted after the mid-1970s (see Threats to 
Internal Security, ch. 5). 

In the isolated "zones of control," as in other rural areas, ameni- 
ties were few: no electricity, water taken from streams and springs, 
and no sanitation facilities. Agricultural production on family plots 
and collective farms provided food for guerrilla combatants as well 
as for local residents. According to sympathetic foreign observers, 
the guerrillas provided some social services, including at least 
rudimentary medical care, using both modern and traditional herbal 
methods, and education programs. Although supplies were either 
limited or nonexistent, literacy programs for all ages, using sticks 
to scratch in the earth in lieu of pens and paper, and education 
in first aid and basic sanitation measures were conducted. These 
courses served to provide basic education to a largely illiterate popu- 
lation and to prepare them to provide medical and logistical sup- 
port to FMLN combatants. Town meetings were held to discuss 
issues of local concern and to elect councils with representatives 
responsible for agriculture, health, education, and information. Re- 
ligious activities compatible with the tenets of liberation theology 
(see Glossary) were encouraged. Security and early warning of 
armed forces operations in the area were provided by local militia 
drawn from the pool of younger residents. 


The Society and Its Environment 

Another aspect of the guerrillas' ideology stressed equality for 
women as comrades in the political-military struggle. This, in many 
cases, represented a considerable and sometimes difficult adjust- 
ment for people from a culture that placed an exceptionally strong 
value on machismo, where women traditionally were regarded as 
inferior. Discrimination against women was further reinforced in 
Salvadoran rural life, particularly in the area of labor. Govern- 
ment wage scales either excluded women from permanent labor 
positions; set a lower minimum wage for women, along with boys 
under sixteen and the handicapped; or did not pay women at all 
if they worked in a man's crew. Educational opportunities for girls 
were also more limited because of the need for their assistance at 
home at an early age. In territory influenced by the guerrillas, 
however, some observers reported that wife-beating was dis- 
couraged, an effort was made to assign tasks more equitably, and 
men were taught to view women as companeras (comrades). Thus, 
men might cook and wash clothes, while women fought, or directed 
development projects, or did construction work. In fact, 40 per- 
cent of leadership and 30 percent of combatant roles were filled 
by women in guerrilla zones. Yet even in these communities, there 
were limits to change; tortilla-making, for example, remained a 
female task. 

The Role of Religion 

As a Hispanic country, El Salvador has always had a strong 
Roman Catholic identity. The majority of Salvadorans in the late 
1980s were at least nominal Roman Catholics, and church rituals 
permeated the nation's culture and society. Church attendance, 
especially for women, remained important, church sacraments and 
ceremonies such as baptism and confirmation were observed, and 
fiestas were held to celebrate patron saints of villages, towns, and 
cities. Nevertheless, El Salvador tended to be somewhat more secu- 
lar than its Central American neighbors. Birth control programs 
introduced in the late 1 960s met with less opposition than elsewhere 
in Latin America. Marriage — in a religious or civil ceremony — 
was not as prevalent in El Salvador as in many other Latin Ameri- 
can countries (this situation also reflected the strain exerted on so- 
cial institutions by persistent poverty); many Salvadoran couples, 
especially in rural areas, lived together in common-law or free 
unions, many families were headed by women, and many children 
were born out of wedlock. Lastly, the ritual kinship practice of com- 
padrazgo (selecting godparents for children) was becoming less 
widespread and less important in El Salvador. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Although the Roman Catholic Church, as typified by its hier- 
archy, was conservative in its approach to doctrine, a strain of 
reformist Catholicism called "social Christianity" emerged in El 
Salvador, as elsewhere in Latin America, in the 1930s in response 
to the hardships, uprisings, and repressions of that period. Social 
Christianity, which continued to have some appeal until the early 
1960s, stressed the duty of lay persons to remedy social ills without 
waiting for the religious hierarchy, represented by its priests, to 
act. Although this movement did not advocate change in the basic 
social and political structure of the country, it called for improve- 
ments by working within the existing political order. 

At least one influential individual at the top of the social and 
religious pyramid recognized and encouraged the need for improve- 
ments in the lives of those in the lower sector — the archbishop of 
San Salvador, Luis Chavez y Gonzalez, who held this position from 
1939 to 1977. Archbishop Chavez encouraged the priesthood as 
a vocation; built a seminary in San Salvador; established the Pius 
XII Institute, organized particularly to teach the Roman Catholic 
Church's social doctrine; and sent priests to study in Europe. It 
is also noteworthy that these Salvadoran priests came mainly from 
rural families, albeit fairly well-to-do ones, rather than from the 
urban middle class, and hence had closer ties to the peasantry. It 
is significant too that even in the early 1950s Chavez encouraged 
cooperatives as alternatives for peasants losing land to agribusi- 
ness expansion and that he sent priests to Canada to study cooper- 
atives. In this sense, he presaged the communitarianism later 
advocated by the Salvadoran Christian Democratic Party (Partido 
Democrata C ristiano — PDC ) . 

In the late 1960s, the social attitudes of the Roman Catholic 
Church in El Salvador, as elsewhere, were deeply influenced by 
Vatican Council II (in 1965) and the social encyclicals of Pope John 
XXIII, as well as by the Second Latin American Bishops' Con- 
ference held in Medellm, Colombia, in 1968, which addressed the 
issues of Vatican II from a distinctly Latin American perspective. 
These gatherings, particularly the Medellm conference, empha- 
sized the need for a more worldly involvement by the Roman 
Catholic clergy with the lives and problems of parishioners and 
advocated activist programs to improve the living conditions of the 
lower class. This "preferential option for the poor" was the germ 
of what later came to be known as "liberation theology." The 
church increased and encouraged involvement in programs for 
change after the Medellm conference, even if this involvement 
entailed secular political advocacy. 


Church of the Virgin 
of Guadalupe, 
San Salvador 

Toward this end, activist clergy and laity created grass-roots 
Christian Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiasticas de 
Base — CEBs) to work toward their conception of social justice; these 
groups encouraged church members to take the initiative in seek- 
ing social and political change and to act more independently of 
the church hierarchy, if necessary, to achieve their goals. In short, 
in contrast to the earlier social Christianity, where change was to 
be effected within the existing social and political order, liberation 
theology called for changes in social and political structures and 
encouraged the laity to take an active role in bringing them about. 
In El Salvador, the social concerns of Archbishop Chavez helped 
pave the way for later advocates of liberation theology and, in a 
way, linked this broad Latin American movement of the 1970s with 
the social Christian movements of the prior decades. 

A number of rural communities were receptive to the teachings 
and methods of the base communities. Generally, the organiza- 
tion of the CEBs involved a priest or a trained religious worker 
who met with twenty to thirty local parishioners for a few weeks. 
As this group met to study and discuss selected passages from the 
Bible and plan community activities, lay leaders were encouraged 
to emerge, and the group was taught to appreciate and emphasize 
the role of laypersons like themselves in social change. They dis- 
cussed the earthly social, economic, and political reasons for their 
plight as poor peasants and laborers and were taught by priests 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

and lay workers that the poor were equal before God with the rich 
landowners. During the 1970s, some 15,000 local lay leaders, cate- 
chists or delegates, underwent further training at seven centers set 
up throughout the country, studying the Bible, liturgy, agricul- 
ture, cooperativism, leadership, and health, all in preparation for 
their roles as religious, social, and political leaders in community 
development efforts. The role of local lay preachers and leaders 
also reflected the high ratio of laity to priests in El Salvador, which 
at that time was approximately 10,000 to 1. 

The CEBs soon encountered harassment and hostility, appar- 
ently emanating from the economic and political elite. By the late 
1970s, violence by right-wing groups was directed against mem- 
bers of the priesthood and other church workers known to be sym- 
pathetic to the CEBs on the grounds that assisting the poor 
constituted subversive activity. As civil unrest in general increased 
in the late 1970s, the church as a whole became increasingly polar- 
ized. The majority of the bishops supported the traditional role 
of the church, the traditional authority of the hierarchy, and the 
overriding authority of the government. Allied against this view 
was a faction of parish priests who favored the development of the 
CEBs and advocated expanded aid for the poor. 

Once again, the position of the archbishop became crucial. In 
1977 Archbishop Chavez resigned and was replaced by Monsig- 
nor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez. Like his predecessor, 
Archbishop Romero spoke out publicly in favor of social justice 
for the general populace. He increasingly assumed the role of the 
leading advocate on behalf of the poor; his primary vehicles for 
expressing these views were his weekly Sunday morning homilies, 
broadcast throughout the nation and eagerly listened to on porta- 
ble radios or the ubiquitous village loudspeakers in the plazas. As 
political tensions rose, the influential position and strong impact 
of the outspoken archbishop became intolerable to the Salvadoran 
right, and Romero was assassinated one Monday in March 1980 
while saying mass. 

Violence against grass-roots church activities continued during 
the early 1980s, with telling effect. The number of active priests 
declined, so that 40 percent of rural parishes lacked priests, and 
many CEBs were dismantled or forced underground. Of the 15,000 
lay leaders active in CEBs, some joined the guerrillas, while others 
withdrew from church activities altogether. Monsignor Arturo 
Rivera y Damas, appointed archbishop after Romero's murder, 
found it appropriate to take a more distant or ambivalent position 
with respect to the question of the proper role of the church in Sal- 
vadoran national life, a position that also accorded more closely 


The Society and Its Environment 

with the conservative attitude of the Vatican under Pope John Paul 
II. Meanwhile, although the church proper now lowered its pub- 
lic profile, a small, quasi-independent "people's church" emerged 
from the remnants of the CEB movement. Some priests, mainly 
Jesuits, continued to work in guerrilla-controlled areas, where the 
social and political importance of organized communities among 
the poor continued to be emphasized. 

Protestant missionaries were quite active in El Salvador, the 
majority representing the evangelical branch of North Amer- 
ican Protestantism. Evangelical activity was a multinational, 
multimillion-dollar enterprise developed and packaged in the United 
States, translated into Spanish, and exported not only to El Sal- 
vador but also to the other countries of Central America. Mission- 
aries working for scores of organizations used crusades, door-to-door 
proselytizing, radio programs, food aid, and health care to advance 
their fundamentalist message of personal salvation through belief 
in Jesus, a salvation not to be gained in this world but in the after- 
life. To these theologically conservative evangelicals, Roman 
Catholics were not Christians; only the "born-again" were God's 
chosen people, and efforts to achieve social gains by working for 
change in this life were inappropriate. Although "mainline" 
Protestant denominations encouraged expressions of concern over 
social problems, the brand of evangelical Protestantism that swept 
Central America in the 1970s and 1980s sought to remove its ad- 
herents from social action, to place the onus on God rather than 
on humans to act, and to inculcate passive, apathetic, and sub- 
missive resignation while waiting for the second coming of Christ. 
Put more bluntly, the thought of future salvation would cushion 
the impact of current suffering. 

Protestantism was by no means new to Central America or to 
El Salvador. In the late nineteenth century, the majority of Bri- 
tish and German immigrants, including coffee traders and finan- 
ciers, were Protestants. In 1896 the aggressive Central American 
Mission (CAM), headquartered in North America and financed 
by North Americans, was established in El Salvador and Guate- 
mala. The primary message of the CAM was that the sad state 
of the world was a necessary and predestined situation heralding 
the imminence of the second coming. In later years, the Seventh- 
Day Adventists, the Assemblies of God, and others joined the grow- 
ing missionary movement in Central America. 

Protestantism continued to grow steadily in El Salvador, par- 
ticularly during the economic depression and political repression 
of the 1930s. The annual growth rate of the Protestant commun- 
ity in the country stood at 9 percent between 1930 and 1945 but 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

dropped to 7 percent between 1945 and 1960. A dramatic resur- 
gence appeared in the 1970s with an average annual rate of Pro- 
testant conversion of 1 1 percent. Some observers have attributed 
this impressive growth to a rejection of politicized social activism 
as exemplified by liberation theology. Others have interpreted the 
high rate of Protestant conversion as a withdrawal from the vio- 
lence and instability of Salvadoran life in the late 1970s and 1980s. 

Furthermore, the popularity of evangelical Protestantism seems 
to have correlated with the intensity and nature of population dis- 
placement. As the number of land-poor laborers grew and migrant 
labor increased, and as the bonds of community, extended fam- 
ily, and tradition were broken for many, traditional Catholicism 
was unable to fill the personal sense of emotional loss and lack of 
direction. This was particularly true because the number of priests 
and clerics was small. Protestantism, however, offered a personalis- 
tic message of Jesus' acceptance of the individual, emphasized each 
individual's direct relationship to God unmediated by a hierarchi- 
cal clergy, and held out hope that sustained even desperately poor 
people with a sense of self- worth in the face of violence, displace- 
ment, and misery. 

The elite found an ideological ally in this brand of Protestantism, 
not only for its apolitical approach but also for its laissez-faire, en- 
trepreneurial, work-oriented values and its willingness to minimize 
the responsibility of the existing system for the nation's ills. Elites 
thus gladly supported evangelizing efforts on their landed estates, 
and significant numbers of upper-class Salvadorans converted to 

* * * 

The political events of the late 1970s and 1980s have given rise 
to a considerable number of readily available books, articles, and 
newspaper accounts detailing the conditions of life in El Salvador. 
An excellent introduction to both historical and current economic, 
political, and especially social conditions in El Salvador can be found 
in Philip L. Russell's El Salvador in Crisis and in Alastair White's 
El Salvador. El Salvador: The Face of Revolution by Robert Armstrong 
and Janet Shenk also provides an impassioned and readable account 
of the social and economic conditions underlying the civil war. Mar- 
gin of Life by Cornell Capa and J. Mayone Stycos presents evoca- 
tive photography and text illustrating the often harsh reality of 
everyday life for the impoverished majority living in both urban 
and rural settings in El Salvador and Honduras. 


The Society and Its Environment 

On more specific issues, Phillip Berryman's The Religious Roots 
of Rebellion discusses the background to liberation theology in Latin 
America and the specific role of the Roman Catholic Church in 
El Salvador. Articles in NACLA Report on the Americas by the North 
American Congress on Latin America present an overview of the 
activities and theology of Protestant missions in Central America. 
Also recommended for general reading is Part I of Enrique A. 
Baloyra's El Salvador in Transition, which contains a helpful over- 
view of the nature of the military government and the oligar- 
chical elite within a socioeconomic context. A. Douglas Kincaid's 
"Peasants into Rebels: Community and Class in Rural El Sal- 
vador" analyzes the significance of community solidarity as a fac- 
tor in the history of social unrest in El Salvador. "Agrarian Reform 
in El Salvador" by David Browning provides an excellent over- 
view of the social, political, and economic contexts of agrarian re- 
form, and Robert G. Williams's Export Agriculture and the Crisis in 
Central America is highly recommended as a very readable account 
of the economic and social conditions underlying political insta- 
bility in Central America in general. (For further information and 
complete citations, see Bibliography.) 


Chapter 3. The Economy 

Farm worker drying coffee 

reform in 1980, the most notable characteristic of El Salvador's 
economic structure was the unequal distribution of landownership. 
The economy was dominated by a few large plantations that 
produced cash crops, especially coffee, for export. The slow and 
difficult implementation of a sweeping three-phase land reform be- 
gun in 1980, however, considerably altered the pattern of unequal 

El Salvador's economic development in the 1980s was hindered 
by a resource drain caused by the country's civil conflict, natural 
disasters, a lack of economic expertise, and adverse changes in the 
terms of trade (see Glossary). Consequently, by 1987 El Salvador's 
economic output barely equaled 80 percent of its 1978 level, and 
exports were only the third most important source of foreign ex- 
change after foreign aid and remittances from Salvadorans living 
abroad. The most damaging of these factors was the civil conflict, 
particularly its impact on the country's infrastructure. By mid- 198 7 
observers estimated that the total cost to the economy based on 
lost agricultural production, damaged infrastructure, and funds 
diverted from economic to military purposes was about US$1.5 

El Salvador entered the 1970s as a relatively poor middle-income 
country with per capita income greater than that of Thailand and 
slightly less than that of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), 
Malaysia, and Costa Rica. Its overall level of development was 
roughly comparable to these countries as well, judging by such 
indicators as industrial contribution to the gross domestic product 
(GDP — see Glossary), life expectancy, the cost of labor, and per 
capita income. El Salvador had one other important characteristic 
in common with these other four countries — a hard-working, 
productive, and motivated labor force. El Salvador's annual rate 
of investment growth (3.5 percent), however, lagged substantially 
behind the other four during the 1960s. During this decade, gross 
investment grew annually by 24 percent in South Korea, 16 per- 
cent in Thailand, 7.5 percent in Malaysia, and 7.1 percent in Costa 
Rica. El Salvador's inferior rate of investment growth continued 
and in some cases widened during the 1970s. 

By 1982 Salvadoran development had fallen far behind that of 
South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Costa Rica. Indus- 
trial production hovered around 20 percent of GDP, whereas in 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

the other countries it accounted for between 27 percent (Costa Rica) 
and 40 percent (South Korea). Salvadoran per capita income fell 
to about a third of South Korea's and Malaysia's, half of Costa 
Rica's, and 15 percent below that of Thailand. Making matters 
worse, El Salvador's terms of trade had deteriorated much more 
rapidly than had those of the other countries. 

Between 1982 and 1986, El Salvador fell even farther behind 
as it failed to diversify its exports away from agricultural commodi- 
ties and into manufactured goods. In 1986 per capita GDP was 
almost half its level of 1977, and the country entered a period of 
disinvestment. As other middle-income countries appeared to be 
taking off, El Salvador was regressing. 

Growth and Structure of the Economy 

El Salvador's economy has always been highly dependent on a 
single agricultural export commodity. Following independence, 
indigo was the most important commodity to the Salvadoran econ- 
omy and represented most of the country's exports. In the mid- 
nineteenth century, however, indigo was replaced in the Europe- 
an and North American markets by artificial dyes. Consequently, 
indigo producers were forced to seek alternative commodities that 
would permit them to maintain their level of earnings. Fortunately 
for El Salvador's wealthier landowners, the decline of indigo was 
concurrent with the rise in world demand for another crop that 
thrives in tropical climates — coffee. The coffee export sector domi- 
nated the Salvadoran economy by the 1870s. 

During the 1950s and 1960s, coffee export earnings helped fuel 
the expansion of cotton and sugar cultivation (which subsequently 
became the country's second and third most important export crops, 
respectively) and financed the development of light manufactur- 
ing. In fact, in the years immediately following the Revolution of 
1948, which reduced the direct political influence of the coffee inter- 
ests, the taxes on coffee exports were increased tenfold in order 
to finance industrialization. These funds were used to develop the 
country's transportation infrastructure and electricity generation 

Light manufacturing developed rapidly in El Salvador during 
the 1960s, largely as a result of the establishment of the Central 
American Common Market (CACM — see Glossary). E] Salvador's 
industrial development hitherto had been hindered by the absence 
of a domestic market for these goods. The small class of wealthy 
landowners generally preferred high-quality imports, while the large 
lower class lacked the disposable income to buy most manufactured 
goods. The CACM, however, improved this situation by expanding 



El Salvador: A Country Study 

the market for Salvadoran goods through the elimination of intra- 
regional trade barriers. As a result, the manufactured goods 
produced in El Salvador became more competitive in Honduras 
than those from the United States or other non-Central American 
countries. The CACM- stimulated industrial growth never threat- 
ened the predominance of coffee production within the Salvadoran 
economy, however. Moreover, the stimulus proved to be short lived 
because the CACM broke down in the 1970s. 

The civil conflict and the disincentives inherent in some govern- 
ment policies disrupted coffee, sugar, and cotton production dur- 
ing the 1980s, resulting in a general lack of dynamism in the 
Salvadoran economy (see table 4, Appendix). GDP increased at 
a 4.3 percent annual rate between 1965 and 1978 but, reflecting 
the effects of civil unrest, declined by 23 percent between 1979 and 
1982. The economy modestly expanded between 1983 and 1986, 
with average annual growth rates of about 1.5 percent. The coun- 
try's total GDP equaled approximately US$4.6 billion in 1986. Real 
per capita GDP was approximately US$938. 

During the 1960s and 1970s, gross capital formation increased 
by an impressive 6.6 percent annual rate, reflecting investor con- 
fidence and the positive effects of the CACM. Between 1980 and 

1986, however, as investors reacted to the instability caused by the 
civil conflict, depreciation outstripped investment at an annual rate 
of 0.8 percent. Private outflows of capital slowed in 1987, result- 
ing in a less drastic capital account deficit of US$34 million, less 
than a quarter of the outflow registered in 1986. 

El Salvador's economy expanded an estimated 2.5 percent in 

1987, representing the largest single-year gain since 1978. This 
moderate improvement in the country's overall economic activity 
was primarily the result of a modest rebound in agricultural out- 
put and a substantial reactivation of construction activity led by 
the private sector. Gains in construction investment reflected efforts 
to replace structures damaged in the 1986 earthquake, which caused 
an estimated US$1 billion in damage to the country's buildings 
and infrastructure. Two additional sources of growth were trans- 
fer receipts (mostly from Salvadorans working in the United States) 
and official grants from the United States government. In 1987 
net private transfers, or transfer receipts, accounted for over 4 per- 
cent of GDP, while grants or official transfers from the United States 
government represented 5 percent. 

Although 1987 was the Salvadoran economy's most positive year 
since the beginning of the civil conflict, attempts to measure and 
judge the economy's health should compare the country's economic 
performance in 1987 with its most recent economic peak in 1978. 


The Economy 

Using this method to evaluate El Salvador's economy casts a less 
favorable light than the alternative year-to-year measurement. 
Although El Salvador's economy grew rapidly in 1987 compared 
with other years in the 1980s, real income was still almost 20 per- 
cent below its 1978 level. 

One important but ominous indicator of future economic health 
was the low level of gross fixed capital formation in 1987, which 
remained substantially below the levels necessary to expand produc- 
tion capacity and generate productivity gains. Gross fixed capital 
formation, 14 percent of GDP in 1987, was at a level significantly 
below those experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Consumption expenditures increased by less than 1 percent in 
1987, primarily because of an 8.7 percent drop in general govern- 
ment expenditures. Because the International Monetary Fund 
(IMF — see Glossary) supervised the economic stabilization pro- 
gram, the government was obligated to reduce its budget deficit. 
Also, because revenue sources consistently failed to close the gap 
between expenditures and revenues, the government was forced 
to reduce consumption expenditures in 1987. 

Income Distribution 

Moderate economic growth in 1987 did not make up for the un- 
even income distribution in El Salvador. Poorer segments of the 
population did not share in the modest gains of the economy in 
1987. In the agricultural sector, for example, the minimum wage 
remained unchanged at c8 (for value of the colon — see Glossary) 
per eight-hour day; at the same time, inflation, as measured by 
the consumer price index, rose by 27 percent during the first half 
of 1987. Real wages in both the private and the public sectors con- 
tinued their precipitous descent to 13.3 percent in 1987. In 1987 
private sector monthly wages averaged approximately c889. 
Although no current measure of income distribution was availa- 
ble in mid- 1988, the combination of negative wage gains and posi- 
tive aggregate growth implied a worsening of income distribution 
between employers and labor. 

Sectors of the Economy 

An examination of GDP by sector confirmed that, despite a 
modest recovery in 1987, El Salvador's economy was still vulner- 
able. Even though most sectors showed some growth in 1987, all 
registered below their 1978 or 1979 peaks. 

Thanks to improved weather conditions, the agricultural sector 
recovered in 1987 from its 1986 decline, rising 3.1 percent, which 
merely erased the sector's 3.1 percent loss in 1986. The importance 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

GDP, 1986 = US$4.6 billion 

Other 6.7% 


and Finance) 


Mining, and 

Source: Based on information from Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report: Guatema- 
la, El Salvador, Honduras, No. 3, London, 1988, 3. 

Figure 5. Estimated Gross Domestic Product by Sector, 1986 

of the agricultural sector, particularly coffee, in the economy can- 
not be overemphasized. In 1987, for example, despite a decrease 
in coffee production value attributable to lower international coffee 
prices, coffee still represented approximately 7 percent of GDP, 
30 percent of agricultural output, and 60 percent of total exports. 
Coffee production recovered substantially, about 6 percent, in 1987 
as a result of improved weather conditions and increased use of 
fertilizers. Fortunately, because most coffee was grown in the 
western part of the country, away from the civil conflict, produc- 
tion was unaffected (see fig. 5). 

Analysts believed that in the future the fate of El Salvador's coffee 
earnings would depend on both producer prices and government- 
imposed price or exchange controls. According to some estimates, 
producer prices might eventually decline to levels at or below the 
average cost of production. Such a decline in prices could have cata- 
strophic consequences for the country in both the short term and 
the long term. A decline in coffee prices would limit the country's 
ability to earn foreign exchange, resulting in foreign exchange allo- 
cation problems. Foreign currency shortages would then exert up- 
ward pressure on prices. Unprofitable production could impede 
further investment in coffee production and eventually reduce the 
coffee industry's capacity to generate export surpluses. 


The Economy 

Government policies had a major impact on the profitability of 
coffee production. Price controls and exchange rate policies pur- 
sued by the government of Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes during 
the early 1980s led many coffee growers to claim that coffee grow- 
ing was unprofitable. Even in years of strong world prices, coffee 
growers were adversely affected by the exchange rate manipula- 
tion and price controls effected by the National Coffee Institute 
(Instituto Nacional de Cafe — Incafe). It was unclear, however, 
whether Incafe would continue to operate under a more conserva- 
tive government. 

Sugar and cotton, once important agricultural crops, accounted 
for less than 10 percent of agricultural value added in 1987 and 
less than 5 percent of total Salvadoran export earnings. Low world 
prices adversely affected sugar production and inhibited invest- 
ments. Cotton production declined because of the armed conflict 
and low international prices. For example, in 1986 average produc- 
tion costs of cotton exceeded international prices. 

During 1987 manufacturing accounted for about 15 percent of 
total value added and continued its consistent recovery. Neverthe- 
less, the sector's estimated 2.7 percent growth left value added in 
manufacturing almost 10 percent below the 1980 level. The gradual 
recovery in manufacturing could be attributed to increased demand 
for food products, beverages, and nonmetallic products. In 1987 
food processing and beverages represented more than half of the 
value added in the manufacturing sector. 

The construction industry proved to be the economy's only bright 
spot in 1987, registering growth for the third consecutive year with 
14 percent growth above 1986. Compared with 1979, however, 
activity remained low. Moreover, rapid growth in 1987 reflected 
efforts to replace the structures and units damaged in the 1986 earth- 
quake rather than a general revival of the construction industry. 

Services represented almost half of GDP in 1986. Like construc- 
tion and manufacturing, service activity continued on an upward 
trend in 1987 after falling by almost 25 percent between 1978 and 
1982. As in other areas, however, 1986 value added by services 
remained approximately 17 percent below its 1978 peak. Between 
1970 and 1978, service output grew by 54 percent. With the slow- 
down in economic activity after 1978, services declined by 17 per- 
cent between 1978 and 1987. 

Service activity was tied closely to prevailing trends in the econ- 
omy and therefore didn't have the dynamism of agriculture and 
industry. Service activity was also oriented exclusively toward 
domestic markets and thus did not affect the country's external 
economic position. Services included transportation, commerce, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

1987 Work Force = 2.5 million 

Other 1% 


Source: Based on information from United States, Department of State, Bureau of Public 
Affairs, Background Notes, El Salvador, Washington, November 1987, 1. 

Figure 6. Employment by Sector, 1987 

insurance, health care, utilities, and other services provided by 
public enterprises. 

The Labor Force 

The Salvadoran labor force has been traditionally characterized 
as industrious, motivated, and reliable. Of new entrants to the labor 
force in 1986, it was estimated that 4 percent possessed executive, 
technical, or professional skills. Some 25 percent of all job seekers 
were classified as semi-skilled, while 71 percent were unskilled 
laborers. The labor force was young, reflecting the demographic 
profile of the population; in 1985 more than 52 percent of workers 
were less than thirty years of age (see table 5, Appendix). The labor 
force remained largely agrarian and rural in the late 1980s (see 
fig- «), 

Labor suffered because of a variety of economic and institutional 
circumstances: real wages declined, unemployment rose, and efforts 
to unify the fragmented labor movement were thwarted by the 
failure oif President Duarte to implement promised labor reforms 
and by (the polarization of union leadership (see Interest Groups, 
ch. 4): The negative trend for labor continued in 1987. The legal 
real minimum wage fell by 28 percent, and average real private 
sector and public sector wages dropped by 13.3 percent. Between 
1983 and 1987, real wages declined by about one- third. 


The Economy 

The Salvadoran Constitution details the right to organize unions 
and associations, but the establishment of ' 'closed shops" (enter- 
prises employing only union workers) was forbidden by law. The 
law also required the use of collective bargaining, conciliation, and 
arbitration before a strike could be called. 

In 1986 there were approximately 150 recognized unions, em- 
ployee associations, and peasant organizations, which represented 
15 percent of the total work force. Although union membership 
stabilized in the 1980s, union activism fluctuated with prevailing 
economic and political conditions. For example, in 1982, while 
membership remained fairly constant in relation to past years, the 
number of workers involved in strikes fell from 13,904 in 1981 to 
just 373. In 1984 the number jumped to 26,111. 

In 1987 the labor movement vocalized its frustrations as eco- 
nomic conditions stagnated and the civil conflict dragged on. Such 
frustrations were exacerbated by the perception that Duarte failed 
to implement the labor reforms he had promised during the 1984 
presidential campaign. Labor leaders protested Duarte' s failure to 
fulfill his end of the "social pact" after labor had put its weight 
behind him in exchange for pledges of increased inclusion of union 
members in the government and greater responsiveness to labor 
and peasant issues. 

Between 1978 and 1984, private employment fell from 147,000 
to 122,000, a 17 percent decline. Employment in the construction 
industry suffered the most during this period, declining almost 75 
percent. Employment opportunities in 1987 continued the down- 
ward trend that began with the country's civil conflict. Although 
no official unemployment rates were available for 1986 or 1987, 
it is likely that counterbalancing forces stabilized the rate during 
these two years at the 1985 level, or 33 percent. First, the civil con- 
flict continued to displace many workers and to limit employment 
growth. Second, the agricultural sector grew by 3.1 percent, recoup- 
ing losses experienced in 1986. Finally, an estimated 2.5 percent 
economic growth rate in 1987 was insufficient to reduce the un- 
employment rate. 

The impact of El Salvador's civil conflict was demonstrated in 
the evolution of the unemployment rate between 1978 and 1985. 
Over this period, the rate rose almost tenfold, from 3.1 percent 
to 33 percent. Labor's situation would have been even more grave 
without the emigration of an estimated 500,000 Salvadorans to the 
United States between 1978 and 1985. Remittances from workers 
abroad totaled US$350 million officially in 1987, although some 
estimates were as high as US$1 billion or more. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Role of Government 

Traditionally, the government has played an important role in 
the country's economy. This role increased substantially after 1979, 
provoking considerable controversy and fueling domestic political 
polarization. Economic policy was coordinated among the central 
and municipal governments and seventeen decentralized agencies, 
which included the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (Instituto 
Salvadorefio del Seguro Social — ISSS) and the Salvadoran Insti- 
tute for Agrarian Reform (Instituto Salvadorefio de Transforma- 
tion Agraria — 1ST A). Nine state-owned companies provided utility 
services to the Salvadoran public. In 1980 the government nation- 
alized the marketing and export of coffee and sugar, two of El Sal- 
vador's most important export commodities. Since then, Incafe and 
the National Sugar Institute (Instituto Nacional de Azucar — 
Inazucar) have acted as financial intermediaries between domes- 
tic producers and foreign markets. These bodies have been widely 
criticized by coffee and sugar producers because they imposed heavy 
export taxes and service charges that totaled some 50 percent of 
the sale price abroad. 

Although considerable domestic criticism ~f the government's 
economic policy focused on the disincentives and inefficiency of 
land reform and the creation of Incafe and Inazucar, some critics 
maintained that another drawback of the government's economic 
policy was its failure to take into account the counterinsurgency 
effort. Many Salvadoran policymakers tended to accept the con- 
flict as inevitable, calculating its effect only in terms of a shrinking 
growth rate. They apparently failed to assess a project's viability 
in the context of the civil conflict. 

Monetary and Credit Policies 

Between 1979 and 1982, El Salvador experienced a 23 percent 
fall in real per capita GDP, a 35 percent decline in export earn- 
ings, and a sharp rise in its unemployment rate to an estimated 
27 percent. External and internal imbalance convinced the govern- 
ment to stabilize the situation under the guidance of the IMF. The 
government targeted monetary growth and other areas and, 
according to the IMF, accomplished most of its goals. In 1986, 
after a moderate reactivation of the economy in 1984 and 1985, 
the government adopted a short-term adjustment program to cor- 
rect remaining internal and external imbalances. This program 
included the following changes: unification of the exchange rate, 
exchange and import restrictions, a more aggressive export 
promotion program, new fiscal revenue-generating mechanisms, 


The Economy 

agrarian reforms, a macroeconomic and external debt management 
committee, and strict monetary policies to curb the country's 
accelerating inflation rate, a major goal of government policy. 

The rate of inflation in El Salvador was determined largely by 
the conduct of monetary policy and by variations in exchange rates 
and wages. Because of a net decline in capital formation and a major 
devaluation of the colon, inflation doubled during the 1980s rela- 
tive to the 1965-80 period. El Salvador maintained an average 
annual inflation rate of 14.9 percent between 1980 and 1986, com- 
pared with 7 percent per year between 1965 and 1980. 

Throughout the 1980s, the government employed monetary 
aggregate targets, price controls, wage controls, and exchange rate 
freezes as mechanisms to avoid accelerated price increases. On Janu- 
ary 1, 1981, following a surge in wholesale and consumer price 
inflation, the government decreed a price freeze on basic goods 
and services. Efforts by the Regulatory Supply Institute (Instituto 
Regulador de Abastecimientos — IRA) to control prices through 
market intervention had failed to arrest the price rises for certain 
necessities, and prices seemed to be out of control. The govern- 
ment's price freeze in 1981 was accompanied by an intended six- 
month wage freeze, which actually lasted until the end of 1983. 
Over the 1981-83 period, real wages dropped by 29 percent in the 
private sector and 26 percent in the public sector. 

In response to the increase in the number of transactions occur- 
ring in the parallel market as a result of the unofficial depreciation 
of the colon, 1985 price controls were relaxed. The result was a 
sudden increase in consumer price inflation from 12 percent to 22 
percent, which by the end of 1985 had accelerated to a 32 percent 
annual rate. 

When El Salvador unified its exchange rate in 1986, the price 
of some goods, such as oil derivatives, increased by 50 percent, 
while others, such as foodstuffs and clothing, held constant. Since 
1986 some price controls have been lifted, allowing prices to reflect 
market forces. In 1986 inflation rose to 30 percent by year's end 
but declined to 27 percent in 1987. Continued wage controls 
through government intervention in employer-labor wage negoti- 
ations, an officially fixed exchange rate since 1986, and slow mone- 
tary growth ostensibly tamed the country's high inflation rate. 
Overall, the major results of the government's anti-inflation pro- 
gram were slower price inflation and real wage losses for workers. 

The Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador (Banco Central de 
Reserva de El Salvador — BCR) set interest rates and rationed 
credit, generally targeting available capital for high-priority govern- 
ment projects. The Central Reserve Bank also regulated — and often 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

executed directly — transactions involving foreign exchange, under 
a 1980 regulation to curb capital flight and control monetary sup- 
ply. Small businesses, especially export businesses, were granted 
a majority portion of the credit, often at preferential low interest 

The Salvadoran government pursued restrictive monetary poli- 
cies during 1987 to satisfy IMF recommendations for improving 
the Salvadoran balance of payments and for controlling inflation. 
By restricting credit to the private sector and to public enterprises, 
the government had hoped to curb demand, which in turn would 
have reduced imports and saved precious foreign exchange. In fact, 
despite the government's austerity program, imports increased by 
9 percent in 1987. Furthermore, the government hoped to slow 
the monetary expansion that had tripled the money supply between 
1979 and 1986 to 15 percent during 1987. 

The government provided credit to the industrial sector through 
the National Industrial Development Bank (Banco Nacional de 
Fomento Industrial — Banafi), which was created in 1981 to replace 
the former Salvadoran Institute of Industrial Development (Instituto 
Salvadoreno de Fomento Industrial — Insafi). Banafi provided credit 
to promising new industries that were not able to obtain credit from 
other sources. 

The Banking System 

Since 1980 the entire Salvadoran banking system has been owned 
and operated by the government. Under nationalization, the Cen- 
tral Reserve Bank, through the Operative Fund (Fondo Opera- 
tivo), rationed foreign exchange to the commercial banks. The 
Central Reserve Bank assigned each commercial bank a maximum 
allowable balance of foreign exchange and required a weekly balance 
report. The Central Reserve Bank also covered foreign exchange 
deficits of the commercial banks but required that they transfer 
large surpluses to the Central Reserve Bank. In turn, these com- 
mercial banks agreed to disburse foreign exchange for imports on 
priorities set by the Central Reserve Bank in exchange for the 
services rendered. The highest priorities for foreign exchange dis- 
bursements included food, medical supplies, raw materials, and 
petroleum products, followed by intermediate goods, money for 
medical expenses and activities abroad, and debt servicing. 

Prior to the nationalization of the banking sector, El Salvador 
had numerous private financial institutions that were called banks 
but that actually functioned like investment companies. Members, 
who had contracts with the companies, contributed funds on a regu- 
lar basis and then used this capital as collateral. Some of the more 


The Economy 

important "banks" included the Investment and Savings Bank, 
the Credit and Savings Bank, the Commercial Farm Bank, and 
the Popular Credit Bank. The Popular Credit Bank had broader 
powers than the others and could accept time deposits and savings 
accounts, deal in foreign exchange, and extend letters of credit. 
The Salvadoran Coffee Company and the Salvadoran Cotton 
Cooperative also provided seasonal credit to their members. Their 
activities were not financed by deposits, but rather by loans from 
foreign banks (mostly United States institutions). 

As a result of the civil conflict and the 1980 government decree 
nationalizing the banking system, many Salvadorans transferred 
their savings out of the country. Consequently, private savings fell 
from a 34 percent share of GDP in 1979 to a 32 percent share in 
1980. Capital outflows, however, were heavier than this statistic 
would indicate because GDP fell by 8 percent in the same year. 
By 1982, nonetheless, private sector confidence in the banking sys- 
tem had been tentatively restored, and private savings increased 
to 39 percent of GDP. The increase was primarily attributed to 
a 1982 rise in interest rates, which provided an incentive for saving. 

The Tax System 

Taxes, including sales, export, property, income, capital gains, 
profit, and stamp taxes (a 5 percent levy on goods and services), 
accounted for a 95 percent annual average of the Salvadoran govern- 
ment's revenue between 1976 and 1985. Tax revenue as a share 
of GDP increased from 11.6 percent in 1972 to 14.7 percent in 
1986. Domestic sales taxes, representing 37 percent of total cur- 
rent revenue in 1986, were the most important source of revenue 
for the government. Taxes on international trade transactions 
provided an additional 27 percent of current revenue (two-thirds 
came from export duties), and taxes on income, profits, and capi- 
tal gains provided 19 percent. Property taxes constituted only 5 
percent of government revenue. 

All residents, regardless of citizenship, were required to pay per- 
sonal income tax, which was assessed according to a progressive 
scale, with a graduated minimum tax plus a percentage. In 1986 
wage earners who garnered less than the equivalent of US$2,400 
per year paid no income tax, while those whose income exceeded 
the equivalent of US$50,000 paid at a 60 percent rate. The maxi- 
mum corporate tax was also set at 60 percent. In addition, busi- 
nesses were subject to a net worth tax based on their net capital 
investment; the maximum rate of this levy was 2.5 percent. 

The relative importance of export duties as a revenue source has 
been problematic for the government. Besides being unpopular 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

among coffee producers, these taxes fluctuated with world coffee 
prices. In 1986, for example, government revenues rose by 57 per- 
cent, compared with 1985. Although higher income taxes, stamp 
taxes, and increased foreign aid also increased revenue in 1986, 
the size of the increase resulted largely from a jump in world coffee 
prices from US$1.43 per pound in 1985 to US$1.71 per pound 
in 1986. Conversely, when world coffee prices fell to only US$1 . 1 1 
per pound in 1987, the Salvadoran government reported a fiscal 
deficit of US$160 million. 

Fiscal Policy and the Budget Process 

Salvadoran law stipulated that fiscal budgets of the central govern- 
ment, the decentralized agencies, and public enterprises such as 
Incafe and Inazucar had to be approved by the Legislative Assembly 
(see The Legislature, ch. 4). Budgets were generally approved for 
one fiscal year (FY — see Glossary) at a time. Special projects, such 
as those funded by the United States Agency for International 
Development (AID) and other foreign agencies, were considered 
extrabudgetary operations, however, and were not subject to legis- 
lative approval. 

In nominal terms, government spending doubled between 1976 
and 1982, from US$335 million to US$658 million. Government 
spending was stable relative to GDP, however; government expen- 
ditures represented 12.8 percent of GDP in 1972, compared with 
12.9 percent in 1986. In 1986 the government maintained a sur- 
plus in its current account and an overall deficit equal to 5.4 per- 
cent of GDP. 

The central government's fiscal deficit increased significantly as 
a share of GDP during the 1980s as compared with the 1970s. The 
deficit was 0.5 percent of GDP in 1976 but reached 3.4 percent 
in 1986. Most of the capital needed to cover the growing fiscal 
deficits between 1979 and 1987 was obtained from the Central 
Reserve Bank. The government could in fact cover about 85 per- 
cent of its annual fiscal deficit with financing from the Central 
Reserve Bank. In order to fund operations of public enterprises 
and additional development programs, however, the government 
had to rely heavily on foreign aid and international loans. The 
government owed only US$88 million to foreign creditors in 1970, 
but this indebtedness had increased to US$1.5 billion by 1986. 

United States assistance greatly increased in importance to the 
Salvadoran economy during the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1986, 
the United States provided a total of US$2.5 billion in economic 
and military aid. This represented an increase of more than 
3,000 percent over the US$7 million in economic, military, and 


The Economy 

development aid sent during the entire 1970-79 period. By 1987 
United States assistance totaled US$608 million, larger than the 
fiscal budget of the Salvadoran government of US$582 million. 

Allocation of Government Expenditures 

The allocation of government spending changed markedly after 
1978, mainly as a result of the civil conflict. While expenditures 
on education and health fell as a share of total government spend- 
ing, military spending rose dramatically. 


The percentage of total government expenditures on the Salva- 
doran military increased from 6.6 percent in 1972 to 28.7 percent 
in 1986. Most of this increase was a result of the country's civil 
conflict and the need to establish and maintain the 59,000-member 
armed forces and security forces (see Defense Budget, ch. 5). If 
one also considers the military's operating expenditures (wages and 
purchases of goods and services related to national security), mili- 
tary spending increased from 22.2 percent of all government out- 
lays in 1980 to 47.3 percent in 1986. 

The huge amounts spent on counterinsurgency were further 
underscored when one considers foreign military aid; as much as 
75 percent of the US$2.5 billion in United States assistance be- 
tween 1980 and 1986 may have been applied directly or indirectly 
to the war effort. A study released in late 1987 by the bipartisan 
Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus of the United States Con- 
gress alleged that aid targeted for "stabilization, restoration, and 
humanitarian needs" was being used instead to repair damage, 
thus freeing more of the Salvadoran budget for military expendi- 
tures. The caucus advocated stricter measures to ensure that aid 
was used to improve health care, nutrition, and education. 

Utilities and Communications 

Most major utility companies in El Salvador were state owned 
and operated. These included the National Water and Sewerage 
Administration (Administracion Nacional de Acueductos y 
Alcantarillados — ANDA), the National Telecommunications Ad- 
ministration (Administracion Nacional de Telecomunicaciones — 
Antel), and the National Electric Company, known formally as the 
Rio Lempa Executive Hydroelectric Commission (Gomision Ejecu- 
tiva Hidroelectrica del Rio Lempa — CEL). These companies, 
responsible for providing public services, operated fairly autono- 
mously, even though their budgets were controlled by the Legisla- 
tive Assembly. Government expenditures on economic services 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

(including road construction and maintenance, communications 
facilities, and power plants and lines) declined from 29 percent of 
total expenditures in 1976 to only 12 percent in 1985. Spending 
on these services increased by 37 percent in nominal terms from 
US$98 million in 1976 to US$135 million in 1985; during the same 
period, government spending increased by 31 percent, from US$334 
million to US$1.1 billion. In 1978 about 70 percent of these service- 
oriented expenditures went for the building and maintenance of 
roads, communications facilities, and power plants and lines. This 
share declined to 53 percent in 1986, largely because of increased 
spending on services to the agriculture sector and the fishing in- 

Health, Education, and Entitlements 

Historically, El Salvador's health care system has fallen short 
of the country's needs (see Health and Welfare, ch. 2). The govern- 
ment's ability to provide adequate health care eroded during the 
1980s because of the civil conflict's costliness and guerrilla attacks 
that destroyed many previously existing facilities. Spending on 
health care, as well as other social services, was supplanted by in- 
creases in military spending. Consequently, government spend- 
ing on health services declined as a share of total expenditures from 
10 percent in 1978 to 7.5 percent in 1986. 

Nevertheless, compared with its performance earlier in the 
decade, health care improved in the mid-1980s, largely because 
of AID efforts. With AID assistance, the Salvadoran government 
circumvented drastic reductions in social services — despite cuts to 
these services in the fiscal budget — and progressed in a number 
of areas. Between 1984 and 1986, malaria cases declined from 
62,000 to 23,500; officials from the Ministry of Public Health and 
Social Services were able to make 914 prenatal visits per 1 ,000 births 
in 1986, compared with 876 in 1984; health officials also increased 
distribution of oral rehydration packets (vital to reducing infant 
mortality) by 130 percent, from 650,000 in 1984 to 1.5 million in 

Education's share of government expenditures declined, a side 
effect of the civil conflict, from 21.4 percent in 1976 to 14.5 per- 
cent in 1986. As a result, by 1986 over 1,000 schools had been 

Government spending on social security and welfare increased 
from US$11 million in 1976 to US$31 million in 1985, an increase 
in line with that for total government spending. Spending on hous- 
ing and amenities, however, declined in nominal terms, from 
US$11 miUion in 1976 to US$6 million in 1985. This category 


Municipal buses, San Salvador 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 

included spending on sanitary services, which declined from 
US$800,000 in 1976 to US$200,000 in 1985, after dropping to a 
low of US$100,000 between 1979 and 1981. 

Public Enterprises 

In El Salvador in the late 1980s, there were nine state-owned 
companies, the most important of which were public utility com- 
panies, such as CEL, Antel, AND A, IRA, and the Autonomous 
Executive Port Commission (Comision Ejecutiva Portuaria Auto- 
noma — CEPA). IRA, which operated under the Ministry of 
Agriculture and Livestock, was responsible for marketing imported 
or domestic foodstuffs, such as corn, rice, beans, and powdered 
milk. Some of these foods were sold in government stores at subsi- 
dized prices. The state also owned shares of the cement and textile 
industries. The establishment of the two state-owned marketing 
companies, Incafe and Inazucar, expanded the public sector sig- 
nificantly and increased public revenue at the expense of coffee and 
sugar producers. 

Most state-owned companies turned a profit in the 1980s. Be- 
tween 1980 and 1983, for example, state-sector profits increased 
from 0.8 percent to 1.7 percent of GDP. Some state-owned com- 
panies, however, tended not to adjust prices during inflationary 
periods. IRA regularly incurred large deficits by trying to provide 
affordable foodstuffs. IRA's deficits were generally covered by the 
central government. Most other state-owned companies financed 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

their deficits abroad, or through loans from the Central Reserve 


Industry and agriculture were the most dynamic sectors of the 
economy during the 1965-80 period, growing each year by 5.3 per- 
cent and 3.6 percent in real terms, respectively. Between 1980 and 
1986, the value of agricultural output dropped by an average 2.3 
percent per year. This decline was influenced by a number of fac- 
tors, among them guerrilla sabotage, the comparative inefficiency 
of farms created by the land reform program, and the ineffective- 
ness of many government policies. Despite the general decline of 
agricultural output, coffee, which generated half the country's ex- 
port earnings in 1987, continued as the most important commodity 
produced in El Salvador. 

The agricultural sector accounted for nearly 25 percent of GDP 
in 1987 and was responsible for about 80 percent of the country's 
export revenue. Although the number of people employed in 
agriculture increased from 3.5 million in 1970 to 5.7 million in 
1986, the share of the economically active population employed 
in agriculture declined from 56 percent in 1970 to only 40 percent 
in 1986. After coffee, sugar and cotton were the most important 
agricultural commodities. Basic grains (wheat, rice, and corn) were 
also grown extensively, but for domestic consumption. 

Despite the relative importance of agriculture to El Salvador's 
economy, absolute levels of production declined dramatically after 
1979. Several factors, especially the civil conflict, were blamed for 
the decline. Guerrilla attacks on farms, processing plants, and in- 
frastructure undermined efficiency, precluded investment, and in- 
timidated laborers. The impact of the conflict varied, however, 
depending on the crop. For example, the geographical location of 
the most important coffee- growing area — the western sector of the 
country — insulated most coffee producers from the violence. In con- 
trast, cotton production, centered in the eastern part of the coun- 
try, was devastated by guerrilla activities. 

The Land Tenure System 

Historically, landownership in El Salvador has been highly con- 
centrated in an elite group of wealthy landowners. Most of the good 
arable land in El Salvador was located on large coffee plantations, 
while lower quality land was rented to peasants, who grew staple 
crops (see Standard of Living, ch. 2). Because these plots often failed 
to provide even a subsistence-level existence for them, the tenant 
farmers often worked as laborers for the coffee plantations as well. 


The Economy 

During the colonial period, a certain tension existed between the 
hacendados — the owners of private plantations — and Indian com- 
munities that laid claim to, but did not always make productive 
use of, communal lands known as ejidos or tierras comunales. Although 
some encroachment by hacendados on Indian lands undoubtedly 
took place, this practice was not apparently widespread, mainly 
because the Spanish crown had supported the integrity of the Indian 
lands. After independence, however, the process of private seizure 
of communal lands accelerated, aided by the confusing and incom- 
plete nature of the inherited colonial statutes dealing with the owner- 
ship and transfer of land. The rapid growth of coffee production 
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led the govern- 
ment to formalize the favored status of private, export-oriented 
agriculture over subsistence farming through the passage of the legis- 
lative decree of March 1, 1879. This decree allowed private in- 
dividuals to acquire title to ejido land as long as they planted at 
least 25 percent of that land with certain specified crops, most nota- 
bly coffee and cocoa. Tierras comunales were formally abolished in 
February 1881; the abolishment of ejidos in March 1882 left pri- 
vate property as the only legally recognized form of land tenure. 

During the twentieth century, the conflict over land tenure pit- 
ted commercial export-crop producers against campesinos who 
sought to raise subsistence crops — mainly corn — on land to which 
they rarely held legal title. Some campesinos worked under vari- 
ous rental and sharecropping arrangements; however, an increas- 
ing number functioned as squatters, with no claim to their land 
beyond their mere presence on it. This occupation of private and 
public lands was intensified by rapid population growth, the ex- 
pansion of cotton production that removed further acreage from 
the total available for subsistence agriculture, and the expulsion 
of thousands of Salvadorans from Honduras following the 1969 war 
between the two countries (see The 1969 War with Honduras, 
ch. 1). 

As of 1988, the most recent agricultural census had been con- 
ducted in 1971, but data on the 1980 land reform program cor- 
roborates that extremely unequal land distribution patterns persisted 
throughout the 1970s. According to the 1971 agricultural census, 
92 percent of the farms in El Salvador (some 250,500 in all) together 
comprised only 27 percent of all farm area. The other 73 percent 
of farmland was combined in only 1,951 farms, or 8 percent of 
all farms; these parcels were all over 100 hectares. Farms between 
100 and 500 hectares represented 15 percent of El Salvador's cul- 
tivated area. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The land distributed under Phase I of the land reform program 
included the largest plantations — all those larger than 500 hectares. 
Phase I divided up 469 individual properties, with a combined area 
of 219,400 hectares, almost 18 percent of all Salvadoran farmland. 
Nearly 31,400 Salvadoran heads of household benefited directly 
from Phase I of the land reform; if family members are included, 
the beneficiaries totaled almost 188,200. Most of these lands were 
expropriated by the government and divided among 317 coopera- 
tives. The government hoped that the economies of scale possible 
under a cooperative framework would keep the farms efficient. 

The government guaranteed the former landholders that they 
would be compensated and had planned to pay them out of the 
cooperatives' earnings. However, because the cooperatives ex- 
perienced major difficulties during their initial years, much of the 
compensation had to be paid by the government. According to a 
report released by the inspector general of AID in February 1984, 
the cooperatives established under Phase I of the land reform "had 
massive capital debt, no working capital, large tracts of nonproduc- 
tive land, substantially larger labor forces than needed to operate 
the units, and weak management." By the end of 1985, only 5 
percent of the 317 cooperatives formed under the land reform were 
able to pay their debts, in spite of US$150 million in assistance 
from AID. Many lacked capital to buy fertilizer, so yields steadily 
declined. Nevertheless, by the end of 1987 almost all Phase I com- 
pensation had been paid. The restrictions placed on Phase II by 
the Constituent Assembly greatiy limited its effect on land tenure 
because of the small size of the plots (see Agrarian Reform, ch. 2). 
As of 1987, however, Phase II of the agrarian reform program had 
not been implemented. 

Major Crops and Commodities 


Coffee has fueled the Salvadoran economy and shaped its his- 
tory for more than a century. It was first cultivated for domestic 
use early in the nineteenth century. By mid-century its commer- 
cial promise was evident, and the government began to favor its 
production through legislation such as tax breaks for producers, 
exemption from military service for coffee workers, and elimina- 
tion of export duties for new producers. By 1880 coffee had become 
virtually the sole export crop. Compared with indigo, previously 
the dominant export commodity, coffee was a more demanding 
crop. Since coffee bushes required several years to produce a usa- 
ble harvest, its production required a greater commitment of capital, 


labor, and land than did indigo. Coffee also grew best at a certain 
altitude, whereas indigo flourished almost anywhere. 

Unlike those of Guatemala and Costa Rica, the Salvadoran coffee 
industry developed largely without the benefit of external techni- 
cal and financial help. El Salvador nonetheless became one of the 
most efficient coffee producers in the world. This was especially 
true on the large coffee fincas, where the yield per hectare increased 
in proportion to the size of the finca, a rare occurrence in planta- 
tion agriculture. The effect of coffee production on Salvadoran so- 
ciety has been immeasurable, not only in terms of land tenure but 
also because the coffee industry has served as a catalyst for the de- 
velopment of infrastructure (roads and railroads) and as a mechan- 
ism for the integration of indigenous communities into the national 

In the decades prior to the civil conflict of the 1980s, export earn- 
ings from coffee allowed growers to expand production, finance 
the development of a cotton industry, and establish a light manufac- 
turing sector. After 1979, however, government policies, guerrilla 
attacks, and natural disasters reduced investment, impeding the 
coffee industry's growth. To make matters worse, after a price jump 
in 1986 world coffee prices fell by 35 percent in 1987, causing coffee 
exports to decline in value from US$539 million to US$347 million. 

Government control of coffee marketing and export was regarded 
as one of the strongest deterrents to investment in the industry. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

In the first year of Incafe's existence, coffee yields dropped by over 
20 percent. During each of the ensuing four years, yields were about 
30 percent lower than those registered during the 1978-80 period. 
Although the area in production remained fairly constant at approx- 
imately 180,000 hectares, production of green coffee declined in 
absolute terms from 175,000 tons in 1979 to 141,000 tons in 1986; 
this 19 percent drop was a direct result of lower yields, which in 
turn were attributed to decreased levels of investment. According 
to the Salvadoran Coffee Growers Association (Asociacion 
Cafetalera de El Salvador — ACES), besides controlling the sale of 
coffee, Incafe also charged growers export taxes and service charges 
equal to about 50 percent of the sale price and was often late in 
paying growers for their coffee. 

Coffee growers also suffered from guerrilla attacks, extortion, 
and the imposition of so-called "war taxes" during the 1980s (see 
Left-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). These difficulties, in addition to their 
direct impact on production, also decreased investment. Under nor- 
mal conditions, coffee growers replaced at least 5 percent of their 
coffee plants each year because the most productive coffee plants 
are between five and fifteen years old. Many coffee growers in El 
Salvador, in an effort to avoid further losses, neglected to replant. 

Although most coffee production took place in the western sec- 
tion of El Salvador, coffee growers who operated in the eastern 
region were sometimes compelled to strike a modus vivendi with 
the guerrillas. During the 1984-85 harvest, for example, the guer- 
rillas added to their ' 'war tax' ' demand a threat to attack any plan- 
tation they thought underpaid workers. They demanded that 
workers receive the equivalent of US$4.00 per 100 pounds picked, 
a US$1.00 increase over what was then the going rate. The fact 
that growers negotiated with the guerrillas — while the government 
looked the other way — demonstrated the continuing importance 
of coffee export revenue to both the growers and the government. 


Sugar was the most dynamic of all agricultural commodities dur- 
ing the 1980s, showing increases in production and amount of area 
cultivated. Salvadoran farmers devoted 42,000 hectares to sugar 
production in 1986, compared with 33,000 hectares in 1979. 
Production rose from 2.7 million tons in 1979 to 3.2 million tons 
in 1986, after peaking at a record 3.4 million tons in 1984. Despite 
rising production, however, sugar producers still experienced 
problems. World sugar prices crashed from US$0,085 per pound 
in 1983 to US$0.04 per pound in 1984 and did not begin to recover 
until late 1987. 


The Economy 


Salvadoran farmers did not produce much cotton until after 
World War II, when several technological developments combined 
to facilitate farming on the coastal lowlands. One of these was the 
increased availability of drugs to combat malaria and yellow fever; 
another was the production of cheap chemical insecticides (insect 
infestation being the major obstacle to high cotton yields in El Sal- 
vador); and yet another was the development during World War 
II, when imports of cloth and clothing dried up, of a domestic tex- 
tile industry. During the 1950s, cotton production increased fifteen- 
fold. Production was boosted still further in the 1960s by the 
completion of the Carretera Litoral, the coastal highway running 
almost the length of the country. 

Although it was one of the country's top sources of export revenue 
in the 1960s and 1970s, cotton was the major economic casualty 
of the civil conflict, virtually disappearing as an export commodi- 
ty during the 1980s. The value of exports fell precipitously, from 
US$87 million in 1979, to US$56 million in 1983, and to only 
US$2.3 million in 1987. Many plantations in the eastern part of 
the country were abandoned as a result of the violence, while other 
plantations affected by the land reform shifted production to other 
crops. Those farms that continued to operate reported declining 
yields and a virtual cessation of investment and replanting. The 
cultivated area devoted to cotton declined from 82,000 hectares in 
1979 to only 27,000 hectares in 1986, a drop of almost 70 percent. 
Production of seed cotton declined from 169,000 tons in 1979 to 
55,000 tons in 1986. 

Basic Grains 

During the late 1970s, the Salvadoran government shifted the 
emphasis of agricultural policy away from traditional export com- 
modities toward increased production of staple crops for domestic 
consumption. Food security, defined as the ability to produce 
enough food domestically, was a goal of the government in the 
1980s, but one that proved increasingly elusive. The area under 
cereals cultivation declined from 422,000 hectares in 1979 to 390,000 
hectares in 1986 because farms located in conflict zones were aban- 
doned. The shortfall was made up by an increase in imports. Sal- 
vadoran food imports totaled only 75,000 tons in 1974; by 1986, 
however, this figure had risen to 212,000 tons. In response to the 
insurgency, food aid was increased. In 1974-75, for example, El 
Salvador received only 4,000 tons of food aid; by 1985-86 this figure 
had risen to 278,000 tons. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Corn production declined steadily from 517,000 tons in 1979 
to 391 ,000 tons in 1986. The area for corn cultivation also declined 
from 281 ,000 hectares to 243,000 hectares, while yields shrank from 
1.8 tons per hectare to 1.5 tons per hectare. Rice production, 
however, remained fairly steady. Salvadoran farmers maintained 
approximately 15,000 hectares in rice from 1979 to 1986 (rising 
to 17,000 hectares in 1985); harvests rose from 56,000 tons in 1979 
to 69,000 tons in 1985, only to drop to 53,000 tons in 1986. Sor- 
ghum production and cultivation also declined slightly. In 1979 
farmers devoted 126,000 hectares to the cultivation of sorghum, 
compared with 1 19,000 hectares in 1986. Sorghum harvests declined 
from 145,000 tons in 1979 to 135,000 tons in 1986. 


Cattle raising accounted for some 10 percent of the value added 
in agriculture for 1986. The cattle population dropped from 
1,317,000 head in 1979 to only 1,010,000 head in 1986. Salvadoran 
farmers raised only 400,000 pigs in 1986, an 11 percent decline 
from 1979. The declines in production were attributable to wide- 
spread overslaughtering — a result of the land reform, which caused 
some large landowners to slaughter their livestock and sell them 
rather than lose them to the cooperatives — smuggling, to avoid ex- 
port taxes, and the effects of the civil conflict. 


El Salvador's fishing industry, although responsible for only 0.1 
percent of GDP, produced the fourth largest source of export 
revenue for the country in 1986. In 1987 the fishing industry con- 
sisted of two main sectors, a modern, capital-intensive shrimp fish- 
ery, and a small artisanal fishery. Of the two, the shrimp industry 
was the big money-maker, with shrimp exports totaling 3,700 tons 
in 1986, valued at US$18.4 million. Shrimp fishermen caught an 
annual average of about 5,400 tons from 1980 through 1987, up 
from the 3,000 to 4,000 tons caught each year during the 1960s 
and 1970s. The abundant shrimp resource supported both a modern 
shrimp fleet and an artisanal shrimp fishery. 

In 1981 the government established the Center for Fisheries 
Development (Centro de Desarrollo Pesquero — Cendepesca) to de- 
velop the fishing industry. Cendepesca regulated the industry and 
promoted its expansion through such devices as tax credits on the 
importation of machinery, fishing boats, and inputs for process- 
ing and exemptions of five or ten years on municipal and income 
taxes for companies devoted to fishing. Cendepesca also tried to 
manage the shrimp fishery (to prevent overfishing) through required 


Shrimp fishermen 

Courtesy United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 

registration and licensing of shrimp boats. Cendepesca repeatedly 
sought to impose a closed season during shrimp reproduction 
periods, but these efforts were thwarted by powerful lobbyists in 
the face of opposition from major shrimp companies. Consequendy, 
there was a fear that overfishing would deplete stocks, a develop- 
ment that could reduce the shrimp catch and have a major impact 
on the country's export earnings. 

El Salvador also had an embryonic shrimp culture industry. 
According to an AID feasibility study, El Salvador has 5,000 hect- 
ares of land particularly well suited for shrimp farming. By the end 
of 1987, however, only four small shrimp farms were operating 
in El Salvador. 

The government also tried with a US$50 million loan from 
France to establish a major tuna fishery. The funds were used to 
build a large tuna port, complete with processing facilities, at La 
Union, already a major shrimp fishing port. The project was com- 
pleted in 1981 but was never initiated because of the government's 
poor management of the vessels and the project. The Salvadoran 
government, which purchased two large tuna seiners for operation 
in 1981 and 1982, reported meager catches because of technical 
difficulties. By 1985 the facilities at La Union had languished, and 
the government was unable to sell the vessels. The weakness of 
the Salvadoran tuna industry became clear in September 1986 (and 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

again in August 1988) when the Salvadoran government ignored 
the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act, an act that 
requires tuna exporters to the United States to report their efforts 
to reduce concomitant porpoise mortalities. Consequently, the 
United States embargoed Salvadoran tuna in September 1986 and 
again in 1988. 


El Salvador's forestry industry developed rapidly after 1969, when 
the "Soccer War" cut off shipments of lumber from Honduras, 
a primary supplier (see The 1969 War with Honduras, ch. 1). The 
lumber industry was encouraged by the developing paper and wood 
pulp production industries and the ongoing traditional furniture 
industry. By the mid-1980s, however, El Salvador was once again 
highly dependent on wood imports. Lumber imports in 1985 totaled 
US$36.7 million, compared with US$13 million in 1974, while lum- 
ber exports reached US$6.6 million in 1985, compared with only 
US$400,000 in 1974. 


The creation of the CACM fostered development of industry 
in El Salvador during the 1960s by reducing intraregional trade 
barriers, which increased aggregate demand for manufactured 
goods. The Salvadoran and Guatemalan manufacturing sectors 
benefited the most and conversely suffered the most when the 
CACM lost momentum after the 1969 Salvadoran-Honduran war. 
During the 1980s, however, industrial output, affected by guer- 
rilla attacks on power plants and by reduced investor confidence, 
also suffered declines by an average of 0.7 percent each year be- 
tween 1980 and 1986. 

Manufacturing of consumer goods predominated in the indus- 
trial sector. About 50 percent of manufactured goods produced were 
either food products or beverages. Intermediate goods, such as 
chemicals and pharmaceuticals, increased in importance during 
the 1970s but still constituted only about 15 percent of manufac- 
turing output in 1986. El Salvador also had small industries that 
produced tobacco products, petroleum products, clothing, textiles, 
wood products, and paper products. Construction was the second 
leading contributor to the industrial sector, but its contribution to 
GDP was considerably less than that of manufacturing. 


The manufacturing industry developed slowly. In 1950, when 
manufacturing accounted for about 7 percent of GDP, it comprised 


The Economy 

mostly cottage industries. Of the fourteen larger manufacturing 
firms (with more than 100 employees), thirteen were located in San 
Salvador and produced mainly textiles, tobacco, and beverages; 
most of the smaller firms manufactured clothing, shoes, furniture, 
and wood or straw products. 

The development of manufacturing industries was slowed by a 
shortage of reliable year-round labor — most Salvadorans worked 
seasonally as agricultural laborers — and an even more acute lack 
of skilled workers. In 1952, however, when the government offered 
tax breaks to small businesses, industry grew almost 5 percent a 
year from 1955 to 1958. During this period, cement, chemical, and 
transportation equipment industries began. The intermediate goods 
sector was much more dynamic than the capital goods sector; with 
the development of modern chemical, pharmaceutical, and petro- 
leum product industries, it grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s. 
The production of machinery and transport equipment remained 
fairly stable in terms of its share of the value added for total Sal- 
vadoran manufactured goods, rising from 3 percent of total value 
added in 1970 to 4 percent in 1985. 

By 1960 the manufacturing sector represented 14.6 percent of 
El Salvador's GDP, the highest percentage of any Central Ameri- 
can country at the time. The creation of the CACM boosted the 
rapid development of manufacturing firms in El Salvador through- 
out the 1960s. By 1965, following three years of 12 percent aver- 
age annual growth, manufacturing represented 17.4 percent of 
GDP. Between 1961 and 1970, value added in manufacturing in- 
creased (in nominal terms) from US$89.2 million to US$194.1 

The manufacturing sector received a temporary setback because 
of the 1969 war with Honduras, which disrupted CACM trade. 
Even the CACM's share of Salvadoran exports fell from 40 per- 
cent in 1968 to 32 percent in 1970. Nevertheless, manufacturing 
output increased by a modest 3.9 percent in 1969. Following the 
war, however, foreign investment replaced CACM trade as the 
engine of growth for the Salvadoran manufacturing industry. 

During the 1970s, manufacturing was the most dynamic seg- 
ment of the Salvadoran economy, growing by an impressive 16.8 
percent yearly between 1971 and 1978. Consumer goods (especially 
foodstuffs, textiles, clothing, and shoes) continued to be the most 
important products. Because of the CACM's decline, El Salvador 
was forced to seek new export markets like the United States, which 
in the 1970s imported over 20 percent of the country's food ex- 
ports and almost 35 percent of its exports of beverages and tobacco 
products. El Salvador also sought export markets for textiles and 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

other light manufactures in the United States and the Federal 
Republic of Germany (West Germany). The project was not com- 
petitive, however, because of poor product quality and outmoded 
manufacturing techniques and expensive foreign materials. Even- 
tually Japan and West Germany became important export mar- 
kets for the bulk of El Salvador's nonedible raw materials, fats, 
and oils. 

Because foreign investors funneled their capital to industries 
producing intermediate goods, these industries increased in im- 
portance relative to consumer goods during the 1970s. As a result, 
El Salvador increased the percentage of its exports of manufactured 
goods exported to industrialized countries. In 1965 over 90 per- 
cent of Salvadoran manufactured exports went to other develop- 
ing countries (primarily CACM states), but by 1986 about 87 
percent were being shipped to industrialized countries. Overall 
exports of manufactured goods increased (in real terms) from US$32 
million in 1965 to US$170 million in 1986. 

During the 1980s, the manufacturing sector, buffeted by the chaos 
of the civil conflict, labor unrest, declining investor confidence, and 
world recession, experienced a major decline. Aside from the gener- 
alized capital flight spurred by political instability, the second most 
damaging effect of the conflict, after guerrilla sabotage of the elec- 
trical grid, was attacks on factories. 

The industries hit hardest by guerrilla attacks were those producing 
nontraditional capital goods such as transportation equipment, in- 
termediate goods such as metal products and machinery, and capital- 
intensive consumer goods such as electric appliances. Traditional 
industries (foodstuffs, beverages, tobacco, wood products, and fur- 
niture) were least affected because their factories tended to be smaller 
and thus less subject to guerrilla attacks. These industries also had 
well-developed domestic markets and consequently were less affected 
by the 1980-82 world recession. Exports of manufactured goods 
declined by 48 percent in value and almost 80 percent in volume 
between 1979 and 1982, mainly as a result of lower shipments of 
chemicals, textiles, clothing, and petroleum products. 

Labor unrest became a major contributing factor in declining 
manufacturing output. But it is unclear whether or not there is a 
direct relationship between guerrilla activity and that unrest. There 
were, however, eighty- six strikes in 1979, involving almost 23,000 
workers, compared with only one strike, involving 700 workers, 
in 1975. 

Other Leading Industries 

The construction industry was one of the most dynamic in El 
Salvador during the 1970s. Value added increased from US$50 


The Economy 

million in 1977 to US$80 million in 1978 but then declined precipi- 
tously, reaching a low of US$17 million in 1980. The industry 
reported only moderate growth in the early 1980s. Also, the num- 
ber of workers employed in construction declined by over 75 per- 
cent between 1980 and 1986, from 13,100 workers to only 3,100. 

Paradoxically, despite the industry's general decline, the num- 
ber of building permits issued tripled between 1979 and 1984. The 
increase, however, went for housing; the number of permits issued 
for the construction of factories or other commercial buildings 
dropped from 320 in 1979 to only 35 in 1984. It is unclear whether 
or not all the approved buildings were actually built. When the 
October 1986 earthquake prompted massive capital inflows for 
reconstruction, however, the construction industry grew by 14 per- 
cent in 1987 and stimulated the economy's 2 percent increase in 
GDP that year. 

El Salvador's mining industry was first established in the late 
nineteenth century when Charles Butters, who had pioneered the 
cyanide process for mineral separation, opened several gold mines. 
Two of his gold mines (San Sebastian and Divisadero) were highly 
productive; the San Sebastian mine by itself yielded US$16 mil- 
lion worth of gold between 1908 and 1928. Mining declined sig- 
nificantly by the early 1930s because world gold and silver prices 
dropped and costs rose. Mining, which generated only a fraction 
of GDP in 1987, has not played an important role in the Salva- 
doran economy since. El Salvador also has deposits of silver, cop- 
per, iron ore, sulfur, mercury, lead, zinc, and limestone; of these, 
only gold, silver, and limestone were mined in 1987, and only in 
limited amounts. 


El Salvador's infrastructure was the primary target of guerrilla 
sabotage in the mid- to late 1980s. Insurgent forces of the Farabundo 
Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Marti de 
Liberation Nacional — FMLN) regularly damaged or disrupted the 
country's transportation, communications, and energy systems to 
erode the government's popularity. The front hoped to emphasize 
the government's inability to move the nation's economy, to in- 
crease the economic strain on the country, and to create the ' 'ob- 
jective conditions" necessary for a successful antigovernment 
insurrection. Guerrillas attacked a wide variety of economic tar- 
gets, from trucks and buses to bridges, roads, and power plants, 
but they were not responsible for all the damage to the infrastruc- 
ture in the 1980s. A 1982 flood washed out numerous roads and 
bridges, and in October 1986 an earthquake severely damaged 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

many water and power plants and communications facilities, caus- 
ing an estimated US$1 billion in damage. 


El Salvador's transportation sector, which included railroads, 
major highways, and air transport, connected the country's major 
regions (see fig. 7). Even though these systems were extensive, the 
disruptions of the civil conflict made travel dangerous and un- 

El Salvador has had a fairly complete railroad system since the 
early twentieth century. In 1987 there were 602 kilometers of rail- 
roads in El Salvador. Over one-half of the tracks (380 kilometers) 
were owned by Salvador Railroads, which was built with British 
capital in the late 1890s to transport coffee from Sonsonate and 
Santa Ana to the port of Acajutla. By 1985 Salvador Railways, 
which was nationalized in the mid-1960s, was forced to curtail oper- 
ations because of guerrilla attacks. 

By 1980 the country had over 10,000 kilometers of roads, of which 
some 1,500 were paved. The major arteries were the Pan Ameri- 
can Highway and the Carretera Litoral. The Pan American High- 
way ran through Santa Ana, San Salvador, and San Miguel. The 
Carretera Litoral ran mainly along the coast but also went through 
Zacatecoluca and Usulutan. Road transportation was periodically 
blocked by the guerrillas, who intermittently controlled extensive 
eastern portions of both highways. For example, during the October 
1982 guerrilla offensive alone, more than 100 vehicles were burned 
on the Pan American Highway. Truckloads of soldiers were needed 
to convoy fuel trucks on the highway between San Salvador and 
San Miguel. The transportation stoppage reportedly caused a major 
gasoline shortage in San Miguel, where motorists sometimes had 
to visit several service stations in order to fill up their tanks. The 
guerrillas also sabotaged the Litoral and Cuscatlan bridges, the two 
primary routes across the Rio Lempa, one of El Salvador's most 
significant geographic obstacles (see fig. 3). 

The two major ports in El Salvador were Acajutla and La Union, 
both large shipping ports with significant infrastructure for fisher- 
ies. Ilopango International Airport, located near San Salvador, was 
one of Central America's most modern airports, and it was the 
only airport in the country suitable for jet aircraft. El Salvador's 
only commercial airline, Central American Air Transport (Trans- 
poses Aereos Centroamericanos — Taca), owned seven commer- 
cial aircraft that provided service to Central America, Mexico City, 
Miami, and Los Angeles. Nevertheless, considering its size in the 
late 1980s, El Salvador had a large number of airfields. Of the 


The Economy 

country's 138 airfields, 95 were usable, but of these, only 5 were 
paved. Although noncombatant crop dusters used most of the air- 
fields, some were caught in the crossfire of the civil conflict. One 
cotton cooperative reported that one of its pilots had been killed 
and that two others had been wounded by guerrilla snipers. 


Telecommunications in El Salvador, although still not highly de- 
veloped, showed significant growth from the mid-1960s to the 
mid-1980s. The country had a nationwide trunk radio-relay sys- 
tem and was connected to a Central American microwave network. 
There were about 116,000 telephones in the country in 1986, or 
about 2.3 phones for every 100 people. This represented a 900 per- 
cent increase over the 13,000 phones in the country in 1964. 

The National Telecommunications Administration (Administra- 
tion Nacional de Telecomunicaciones — Antel) has owned and oper- 
ated the telephone and telegraph services since 1963. The postal 
service, operating under the Ministry of Interior, carried both 
domestic and international mail. 

Throughout the civil conflict, the telecommunications network 
was devastated by the guerrilla attacks on repeater stations and 
on an earth station parabolic antenna for international satellite com- 
munications (see Left-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). Telephone func- 
tion boxes reportedly were also destroyed daily. AID provided 
generators to maintain telephone service during the frequent power 
outages and also replaced damaged equipment. 


Because El Salvador has no known oil deposits, it has long de- 
pended on imported oil (which frequently has constituted a large 
share of total imports). The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 prompted 
the government to develop alternative forms of energy, such as 
hydroelectric and geothermal power. Although dependence on for- 
eign oil lessened during the 1980s, about one-third of El Salvador's 
energy in 1986 still came from imports. The government owned 
a monopoly on imported petroleum products and sold them at a 
high profit to domestic refineries. In turn, to keep bus fares low 
the government used these oil sales revenues to subsidize diesel bus 
fuel. This policy, ironically, greatiy increased commercial and in- 
dustrial gasoline prices. 

The growth of energy production was impressive through the 
1960s and 1970s (largely as a result of the construction of geothermal 
and hydroelectric power plants) but slowed significantly in the 
1980s. Energy production rose by 9 percent a year between 1965 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The Economy 

and 1980 but decreased to only 3.6 percent a year in 1980-86. The 
growth in energy consumption also slowed, from 7 percent a year 
in the 1965-80 period to only 1.5 percent annually from 1980 to 
1986. Per capita energy consumption, however, increased from 140 
to 216 kilogram equivalents of oil per capita between 1965 and 1986. 

From 1981 to 1985, four hydroelectric power plants (Guajoyo, 
Cerron Grande, 5 de Noviembre, and 15 de Septiembre) provided 
about 50 percent of the country's electricity, geothermal plants 
provided about 40 percent, and thermal plants generated about 
10 percent. Guerrilla sabotage continually targeted electric power 
plants and power lines. In fact, the steady growth in energy produc- 
tion and consumption was quite remarkable, given the frequency 
of these attacks. By 1985 guerrillas had destroyed over 1,000 high- 
tension electrical towers and had damaged almost every power plant 
in the country. During a three- week period in January 1986, guer- 
rilla forces blew up over 120 electrical posts and 9 electrical towers, 
intermittently leaving about 85 percent of the country's popula- 
tion without electricity. 

To diminish the impact of guerrilla attacks on power plants, the 
Salvadoran government signed an agreement with Honduras in 
early 1987 for the annual purchase of about US$15 million in energy 
from the El Cajon hydroelectric power plant, scheduled to open 
in 1989. In 1987 the government also announced that a Belgian 
company was planning to build a US$8 million geothermal power 
plant; the company agreed to accept Salvadoran shrimp as barter 

Foreign Economic Relations 

Balance of Payments and the External Sector 

In 1987 El Salvador was one of the few countries in the world 
to maintain a large current account deficit and experience a net 
outflow of private capital while achieving a large increase in inter- 
national reserves. This increase was equivalent to almost 1 per- 
cent of GDP. These seemingly inconsistent results were reconciled 
by a flow of US$275 million in official aid to El Salvador, 90 per- 
cent of which came from AID. 

El Salvador's total exports equaled approximately US$573 mil- 
lion in 1987, a decline of almost 20 percent compared with 1986. 
The country's weak export performance reflected a deterioration 
in its terms of trade, growing protectionism in Organisation for 
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and 
continuing stagnation of the CACM. Coffee prices fell 35 percent 
from their 1986 high levels, and other agricultural products, such 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

as cotton, sugar, and nontraditional exports, did not compensate. 
In 1987 foreign assistance and emigrant remittances surpassed coffee 
as the most important sources of foreign exchange. Both continued 
to finance the country's balance of payments deficit by an amount 
equal to 10 percent of GDP. In 1987 remittances from Salvadorans 
living in the United States easily exceeded the country's debt-service 

The total value of imports in 1987 was approximately US$911 
million. Import volume and value rose in 1987 by about 3 percent 
and 18 percent, respectively, stimulated by the recovery in the con- 
struction sector, the overvalued colon, and a moderate recovery 
in consumer spending (see table 6, Appendix). Raw materials con- 
tinued to account for over 50 percent of total imports, followed by 
consumer goods (24 percent) and capital goods (23 percent). 

Factor services in 1987 (income from factors of production em- 
ployed outside the owner's locale, such as interest paid on or 
received from external debt), remained in deficit in 1987 at US$127 
million. With exports falling, the country's debt- service ratio rose 
to 37 percent of exports in 1987. A large surplus in nonfactor pay- 
ments, consisting primarily of insurance disbursements from the 
1986 earthquake, negated a significant amount of the factor- service 
deficit, leaving a small US$14 million services account deficit. 

Trade with other Central American countries continued to dimin- 
ish in 1987. In 1977 El Salvador exported US$216 million, or about 
25 percent of its total exports, to other CACM countries. In 1987, 
because of the stagnation of the CACM, exports to this market 
fell below US$100 million, or less than 15 percent of total exports. 
In turn, the fall of exports to CACM countries forced El Salvador 
to solicit other trading partners, such as the United States and 
Canada, which increased Salvadoran imports by their combined 
total of more than 100 percent between 1981 and 1987. Exports 
to these two countries accounted for almost 50 percent of Salva- 
doran exports in 1987. Even with rising demand, total exports 
dropped by almost 50 percent in dollar terms between 1977 and 

Trade and Trade Policy 

El Salvador's degree of dependence on imports of intermediate 
and capital goods changed little between 1978 and 1985. Moreover, 
its dependence on a few agricultural export commodities, such as 
coffee and sugar, and its failure to explore nontraditional exports 
continued to limit growth potential. Despite government promo- 
tion of nontraditional export products, exports actually became less 
diversified throughout the seven-year period, with manufactured 


Cerron Grande hydroelectric project, northwestern El Salvador 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 

goods falling as a share of total exports from a 40 percent share 
to only 20 percent, and coffee rising to a 40 percent share from 
24 percent. 

The country's import trade dependence also continued un- 
changed. Intermediate and capital goods represented about 60 per- 
cent of imports in 1985. That imports of these goods continued 
to constitute such a significant share of total imports reflected the 
failure of import substitution industrialization (see Glossary) pro- 
grams to replace imports with locally produced goods. 

The value of imported and exported goods and services was 
equivalent to over 50 percent of GDP in 1985. Lacking a diversi- 
fied export sector and given its high degree of dependence on im- 
ports of capital and intermediate goods, the Salvadoran economy 
was vulnerable to variations in the terms of trade. Since the world 
market prices of El Salvador's primary exports, especially coffee, 
were highly volatile, fluctuations in the terms of trade were com- 
mon. For example, if 1980 equals 100 percent, the country's terms 
of trade went from 72 percent in 1984 to 90 percent in 1986 and 
to 54 percent in 1987. These fluctuations underscored the econ- 
omy's instability and stunted the country's potential growth. 

Trade policy in El Salvador changed significantly between 1 960 
and 1987, reflecting the emergence — and subsequent decline — of 
the CACM, price fluctuations for coffee and other commodities, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

and the evolution of the Salvadoran economy. Past failures and 
mismanagement prompted the IMF to effect commercial policy 
changes in 1982 and 1986. 

The 1 960s have been characterized as the Golden Age for El Sal- 
vador and the rest of Central America. The establishment of the 
CACM in 1960 reduced intraregional trade barriers and drasti- 
cally cut import duties — normally an important source of govern- 
ment revenue. The CACM made it possible for the Salvadoran 
government to pursue import substitution industrialization poli- 
cies then in vogue in Latin America because the reduction in in- 
traregional trade barriers effectively increased aggregate demand 
for nontraditional export products. For El Salvador — more than 
for any other CACM member — these policies favored the develop- 
ment of a significant manufacturing sector. The protective tariffs 
established by the CACM on manufactured goods encouraged its 
countries to develop competitive domestic industries. Trade bar- 
riers restricted imports of finished goods from non-CACM mem- 
bers and reduced tariffs on foreign raw materials. 

Even with these and other changes, however, El Salvador's trade 
policy continued to center on the promotion of agricultural exports, 
a promotion essential to the government's industrialization plans. 
The earnings from agricultural exports were diverted (through ex- 
port taxes and other charges) to the purchase of raw materials, 
machinery, and other unavailable domestic capital goods. Despite 
the rapid growth of manufacturing industries in El Salvador dur- 
ing the 1960s, most manufactured exports by 1970 (especially food 
products, beverages, and textiles) were shipped to the CACM. 
Three export products — coffee, cotton, and sugar — accounted for 
90 percent of extraregional exports. 

When the CACM began to decline in the 1970s, policymakers 
established an industrial free zone, which provided some incen- 
tives to export manufactured goods outside the CACM. The in- 
dustries that were in the free-trade zone, however, tended toward 
the production of intermediate goods that required cosdy imported 
inputs. Consequently, these industries neither created value added 
for the Salvadoran economy nor improved El Salvador's balance 
of payments position. These new industries, however, increasingly 
tailored Salvadoran manufactured exports to North American and 
West European markets by the end of the 1970s. Nevertheless, a 
fixed exchange rate program continued to discriminate against 
exports because the dollar exchange rate remained overvalued. 
As a result of this policy and the country's increasing political 
instability, by the end of 1980 only four foreign companies con- 
tinued to operate joint ventures in the free- trade zone. 


Port expansion at Acajutla 
Courtesy Inter-American Development Bank 

The establishment in 1982 of a dual exchange rate pegged the 
United States dollar at c 2. 50 on the official market, while the rate 
on the parallel market fluctuated with market forces. Until 1985, 
as the country responded to balance of payments pressures, an in- 
creasing percentage of external transactions was shifted to the parallel 
market. Even with the gradual shift of transactions toward the parallel 
rate, a 20 percent real appreciation of the colon undercut the com- 
petitiveness of Salvadoran tradables. Following the rates' unifica- 
tion in 1986, the colon remained fixed, and currency was overvalued. 

Two other important changes affected Salvadoran trade policy 
in the 1980s. First, producers of goods exported outside of the 
CACM were allowed to establish United States dollar-denominated 
accounts in Salvadoran banks. Second, exporters of nontraditional 
goods, e.g. , beverages and processed food, were permitted to hold 
dollar accounts and sell them to the Central Reserve Bank at their 
discretion; the exporters were not required to report the exchange 
rate of these transactions. In a sense, these changes signaled the 
return to a nonunified exchange system. 

Direct Foreign Investment and External Debt 

Foreign capital, especially from the United States, played a crucial 
historical role in El Salvador's economic development. In the early 
decades of the twentieth century, foreign capital (primarily British, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

American, and Canadian) contributed to the development of a min- 
ing sector that produced gold and silver for external markets. In- 
vestment from these countries also spurred the development of the 
Salvadoran railroad and electrical systems. Between 1930 and 1950, 
direct investment increased for the processing of agricultural com- 
modities and for the service sector. 

The amount of foreign capital flowing into the Salvadoran econ- 
omy during the 1960s and 1970s paralleled the rise and decline 
of the CACM. During the 1960s, foreign capital supported the de- 
velopment of import substitution industries, such as Alcoa's 1963 
joint venture to produce semi-finished products from imported in- 
dustrial extrusion ingot and Lenox's 1964 investment to produce 
plastic products. The strong performance of the CACM during 
the 1960s attracted direct foreign investment. Between 1963 and 
1968, the stock of direct foreign investment increased from US$43 
million to US$110 million. Between 1968 and 1978, however — 
the period of the CACM's decline — direct foreign investment in- 
creased to only US$124 million. In the 1970s, a larger share of 
direct foreign investment went to industries with low value added, 
like those in the industrial free zone, rather than toward import 
substitution industries. Until 1979 foreign capital played an im- 
portant role in El Salvador's most dynamic industries, with the 
exception of brewing and cement. During the 1980s, capital in- 
flows slowed in response to the country's political and economic 
instability. Between 1980 and 1984, foreign direct capital flowed 
in at a rate of about US$7 million per year. 

Increased foreign investment, particularly in export- oriented in- 
dustries, was an economic goal of the Duarte administration. 
Although the instability engendered by the civil conflict militated 
against it, the export promotion law of 1986 sought to attract more 
foreign capital by granting a ten-year (renewable for an additional 
ten-year period) exemption from most import duties on inputs for 
industries that exported at least 25 percent of their production. 
These industries were also exempted from all revenue and net worth 
taxes. In an effort to simplify the often frustrating procedure of 
registering foreign firms with the government, a central documen- 
tation center was established to address the needs of export-oriented 

Salvadoran external debt was mostly a result of extensive govern- 
ment borrowing after 1979, which increased the government's in- 
debtedness from US$88 million in 1970 to US$1 .5 billion in 1987. 
The private sector owed US$120 million to foreign creditors in 1987. 
El Salvador's total external debt of approximately US$1.7 billion 
represented less than half of the country's estimated 1987 GDP. 


The Economy 

As a share of exports, debt service rose to 37 percent from 33 per- 
cent in 1986, slightly below the debt service of other large debtor 
countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. On a per capita 
basis, El Salvador's debt was well below that of Costa Rica, Mexico, 
Argentina, and Brazil. 

Of the country's total 1987 debt service of US$182 million, about 
US$113 million went toward principal, while only US$64 million 
went toward interest payments. Low interest payments reflected 
the favorable terms associated with El Salvador's external debt. 
The average interest rate on the debt in 1987 was 3.1 percent, and 
the average maturity was thirty-nine years, with an average 8.6-year 
interest-free grace period. Thus, relative to other heavily indebted 
countries, El Salvador's external debt represented less of an ob- 
stacle to economic development. Over 90 percent of the Salvadoran 
debt was held by nonprivate lenders and was publicly guaranteed. 
Almost half of the public debt was bilateral, most of it held by the 
United States government. Other factors, such as the civil con- 
flict, deteriorating terms of trade, and an antagonistic relationship 
between the private sector and the Duarte administration, have 
more adversely affected the country's economy than has the govern- 
ment's indebtedness. 

In addition to multilateral aid from the World Bank (see Glos- 
sary) and bilateral aid, El Salvador made use of US$43 million 
of its IMF credit in 1987. To qualify for this credit, the govern- 
ment initiated a short-term structural adjustment program with 
limitations on credit and public sector spending and the adoption 
of monetary targets, unification of the exchange rate regime, the 
creation of new export promotion incentives, and the formation 
of an external debt management committee to ensure that autono- 
mous and semiautonomous institutions did not accumulate exter- 
nal debt too rapidly. 

Future economic development in El Salvador seemed in the late 
1980s to be highly dependent on political factors. The lingering 
instability caused by the civil conflict inhibited investment, damaged 
the infrastructure, denied secure access to certain parts of the coun- 
try, and forced the government to allocate an abnormally high per- 
centage of its budget to the military. Even a complete cessation 
of hostilities, however, would be unlikely to lead to complete recov- 
ery in the short term, given the structural shortcomings of the 

* * * 

The lack of broad, accurate, and up-to-date government sta- 
tistics from El Salvador is compensated for to some extent by the 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

working relationships established in the late 1980s between the Sal- 
vadoran government and the IMF and the United States Depart- 
ment of State, particularly AID. Several Department of State reports 
compiled by the embassy staff in San Salvador provide an over- 
view of the economy. Because Salvadoran statistical reporting to 
the IMF was required by the stabilization packages implemented 
in the mid-1980s, the IMF has reliable statistics for the country. 
A good source for both economic and political reporting is the quart- 
erly Country Profile: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras produced in Lon- 
don by the Economist Intelligence Unit. A more historical 
perspective on the economy is provided by Marc W. Herold's ar- 
ticle "Finanzekapital in El Salvador, 1900-80," as well as by David 
Browning's El Salvador: Landscape and Society. (For further informa- 
tion and complete citations, see Bibliography.) 


Chapter 4. Government and Politics 

Voter casting his ballot 

SINCE THE REFORMIST COUP of 1979, El Salvador has 
experienced wrenching political turmoil as numerous actors, move- 
ments, and forces contended for the right to shape the country's 
future. By the late 1980s, the most extreme of these forces — the 
oligarchic elite and the Marxist- Leninist guerrilla forces — appeared 
to have lost some of their previous influence, as a still-tentative 
democratic process continued to evolve amid trying circumstances. 
The United States loomed large in this process as the country's 
major source of economic and military aid and assistance and the 
most enthusiastic foreign supporter of its democratic efforts. De- 
spite consistent support from Washington and a certain amount 
of progress in human rights and economic reform, many prob- 
lems remained intractable, and the overall political situation 
was still volatile and, to some extent, unpredictable. The con- 
servative Nationalist Republican Alliance underscored this fact by 
capturing a surprising legislative majority in the March 1988 

Although the system established by the Constitution of 1983 
was functional, some observers questioned its legitimacy because 
it excluded the Salvadoran left from the political process. As the 
1989 presidential elections approached, however, these claims 
lost some of their validity in the face of the return to El Salvador 
of such opposition figures as Guillermo Manuel Ungo Revelo 
and Ruben Zamora Rivas, the establishment of the Social Demo- 
cratic Party and the possibility, however dubious, of a settlement 
between the government and the Farabundo Marti National 
Liberation Front-Revolutionary Democratic Front within the 
framework of the Central American Peace Agreement signed in 
Esouipulas, Guatemala, on August 7, 1987 (the so-called Arias 

Observers were reluctant to predict the odds of successful 
implemention of a genuine democratic system in El Salvador, a 
country with no real democratic tradition to draw on, where eco- 
nomic conditions were tenuous at best and where a destructive and 
divisive insurgent conflict wore on with no resolution in sight. It 
was clear, however, that the El Salvador of the late 1980s was differ- 
ent from the El Salvador of the 1970s and that further change was 
inevitable, even if the exact nature of that change remained un- 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Constitutional Background 

The Constitutions of El Salvador, 1824-1962 

El Salvador has functioned under fifteen constitutions since it 
achieved independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century. 
The vast majority of these documents were drafted and promul- 
gated without the benefit of broad popular input or electoral man- 
date. The nature of the country's elite-dominated political system 
and the personalistic rule of presidents drawn from either the oligar- 
chy or the military accounted" for the relatively short life span of 
most of these documents. Some of them were drafted solely to pro- 
vide a quasi-legal basis for the extension of a president's term, 
whereas others were created to legitimize seizures of power on an 
ex post facto basis. 

The first Salvadoran constitution was produced in 1824. It 
declared El Salvador independent as a member of the United 
Provinces of Central America (see El Salvador and the United 
Provinces of Central America, ch. 1). The dissolution of the United 
Provinces necessitated the promulgation of a new constitution in 
1841 as El Salvador emerged as an independent republic in its own 
right. The 1841 constitution was a liberal document that estab- 
lished a bicameral legislature and set a two-year term for the na- 
tion's president with no possibility of reelection. The latter feature 
contributed directly to the demise of the document in 1864, when 
President Gerardo Barrios dispensed with it and extended his term 
by legislative decree. 

That same year, Barrios replaced the 1841 constitution with one 
that, not surprisingly, increased the presidential term to four years 
and allowed for one reelection. This issue of presidential tenure 
proved to be a major point of contention for the next two decades. 
The 1871 constitution, drafted by resurgent liberal forces, restored 
the two-year term, prohibited immediate reelection, and strength- 
ened the power of the legislative branch. This document too, 
however, fell victim to individual ambition when President San- 
tiago Gonzalez replaced it with the constitution of 1872, which 
restored the four-year term. Similarly, the constitution of 1880 was 
used to extend the term of President Rafael Zaldivar. The four- 
year term was retained in the constitution of 1883, but presiden- 
tial tenure was reduced to three years in the constitution of 1885. 
The latter document, although it never formally came into force, 
owing to the overthrow of Zaldivar by Francisco Menendez, was 
nonetheless an influential piece of work, primarily because it formed 
the basis for the constitution of 1886, the most durable in Salva- 
doran history. 

The constitution of 1886 provided for a four-year presidential 
term with no immediate reelection and established a unicameral 


Government and Politics 

legislature. Some limits on presidential power were incorporated, 
most notably the stricture that all executive decrees or orders had 
to comply with the stated provisions of the constitution. This con- 
stitutional litmus test of executive action was, at least in theory, 
a significant step toward an institutionalized governmental system 
and away from the arbitrary imposition of power by self-serving 
caudillos. The constitution of 1886 showed remarkable staying 
power by Salvadoran standards, remaining in force in its original 
form until January 1939. It was reinstated in amended form after 
World War II. The 1939 constitution that filled the wartime gap 
was designed by President Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez to 
ensure his uninterrupted rule; it increased the presidential term 
from four to six years. Martinez's effort to extend his rule still fur- 
ther by inserting a provision for the one-time legislative election 
of the president was one of several grievances fueling the public 
unrest that drove him from office in 1944. 

The wartime constitution was revised in that same year. Although 
technically titled the Reforms of 1944, this document is also some- 
times referred to as the Constitution of 1944. It was supplanted 
in 1945 by yet another charter, the constitution of 1945, which en- 
dured for only one year. The 1886 constitution, in amended form, 
was reinstated in 1946. These changes reflected the political un- 
certainty that prevailed in El Salvador between the termination of 
Martinez's long tenure as president and the advent of the military- 
led Revolution of 1948. 

The constitution that grew out of the Revolution of 1948, under 
which Oscar Osorio was elected president, was the constitution of 
1950. It retained a unicameral legislature and changed the name 
from National Assembly to Legislative Assembly. The 1950 charter 
also restored a six-year presidential term with no immediate re- 
election and, for the first time, granted Salvadoran women the right 
to vote. 

A Constituent Assembly appointed by the military-civilian junta 
and headed by Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera drafted a document 
that was promulgated as the constitution of 1962 but that was ba- 
sically quite similar to the 1950 constitution. Relatively long lived 
by Salvadoran standards, it was not superseded until 1983, by which 
time the personal and political guarantees of the constitution had 
been suspended by a state of emergency. 

The Constitution of 1983 

The Political Setting 

The sixty-member Constituent Assembly elected in March 1982 
was charged with producing a new constitution. This new document 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

was expected to institutionalize, although perhaps in modified form, 
the reform measures taken by the various junta governments after 
1979; it was also to serve as the master plan for a system of represen- 
tative democratic government. In addition to crafting the struc- 
ture of that government, the Constituent Assembly was responsible 
for issuing a schedule for presidential elections. 

A majority of the members, known as deputies, of the Consti- 
tuent Assembly represented conservative political parties. All told, 
conservative parties had drawn approximately 52 percent of the 
total popular vote. The moderate Christian Democratic Party (Par- 
tido Democrata Cristiano — PDC) had garnered 35.5 percent. These 
results equated to twenty-four seats for the PDC and thirty-six seats 
for a loose right-wing coalition made up of the Nationalist Repub- 
lican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista — Arena), the Na- 
tional Conciliation Party (Partido de Conciliation Nacional — PCN), 
Democratic Action (Action Democratica — AD), the Salvadoran 
Popular Party (Partido Popular Salvadorefio — PPS), and the Popu- 
lar Orientation Party (Partido de Orientation Popular — POP). 
Representatives of these five parties issued a manifesto in March 
1982 decrying both communism and Christian democratic com- 
munitarianism and declaring that both ideologies had been rejected 
by the people by way of the ballot box. The coalition leaders sug- 
gested that they were preparing to limit Christian democratic in- 
fluence on the drafting of the constitution and to exclude the PDC 
from participation in the interim government that was to be named 
by the Constituent Assembly. 

The original exclusionary aims of the rightist coalition, however, 
were never completely fulfilled. During its existence, from April 
1982 through December 1983, the Constituent Assembly came 
under pressure from a number of sources, most significantly from 
the United States government and the Salvadoran military. United 
States envoys from both the White House and Congress pressed 
Salvadoran political leaders to incorporate the PDC into the in- 
terim government and to preserve the reform measures, particu- 
larly agrarian reform. At stake was the continuation of United States 
aid, both economic and military, without which El Salvador would 
have been hard pressed to sustain its democratic transition in the 
face of growing military and political pressure from the Farabundo 
Marti National Liberation Front-Revolutionary Democratic Front 
(Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberation Nacional-Frente 
Democratico Revolucionario — FMLN-FDR), the leftist guerrilla 
(the FMLN) and political (FDR) opposition groups that unified 
in 1981 in an effort to seize power by revolutionary means (see 
The Civil Conflict Begins, ch. 1). El Salvador's military High 


Government and Politics 

Command (Alto Mando) recognized this reality and lent its con- 
siderable influence to the cause of continued PDC participation 
in government. The Christian Democrats had been brought into 
the junta governments at the urging of reformist officers; by 1982 
the PDC and the military had come to a practical understanding 
based on their shared interest in maintaining good relations with 
the United States, expanding political participation, improving eco- 
nomic conditions for the average Salvadoran, and fending off the 
challenge from the Marxist left. Realistically, the last objective was 
preeminent and encompassed the other three. Lesser influence was 
exerted on the deputies by popular opinion and demonstrations 
of support for specific reforms. For example, campesino groups 
staged rallies outside the Constituent Assembly's chambers to press 
their demand for continuation of the agrarian reform decrees. 

The actual drafting of the constitution was delegated by the Con- 
stituent Assembly to a special commission composed of represen- 
tatives of all the major political parties. The assembly agreed to 
reinstate the 1962 constitution with only a few exclusions until a 
constitution was produced and approved. At the same time, the 
deputies voted to affirm the validity of the decrees issued by the 
junta governments, including those that enacted agrarian, bank- 
ing, and foreign commerce reforms. Having reestablished a working 
legal framework, the assembly voted itself the power to act as a 
legislature through the passage of constituent decrees. 

Since it could not serve as both the legislative and the executive 
branch, the Constituent Assembly was required to approve the ap- 
pointment of a provisional president. Many observers believed that 
Arena leader Roberto D' Aubuisson Arrieta, who was elected presi- 
dent of the assembly on April 22, 1982, was the most likely candi- 
date. D'Aubuisson's reputed ties with the violent right wing, 
however, militated against him. It was reported that the United 
States and the Salvadoran High Command lobbied persuasively 
against D'Aubuisson's appointment, mainly on the grounds that 
his negative image outside El Salvador would complicate, if not 
preclude, the provision of substantial aid from Washington. Ap- 
parently swayed by this argument, the members of the Constituent 
Assembly appointed Alvaro Magana Borja, a political moderate 
with ties to the military, to the post on April 26. In an effort to 
maintain a political equilibrium, Magana' s cabinet included mem- 
bers of all three major parties— Arena, the PDC, and the PCN. 

Despite its defeat on the issue of the provisional presidency, Arena 
continued to hold the balance of power in El Salvador through its 
leadership of the conservative majority in the Constituent Assem- 
bly. The areneros (members or adherents of Arena) vented their 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

frustration with the political process primarily in the area of agrarian 
reform. In May 1982, Magana proposed a partial suspension of 
Phase III of the reform, the Land to the Tiller program, for the 
1982-83 harvest season in order to avoid agricultural losses occa- 
sioned by the transfer of land titles (see Agrarian Reform, ch. 2). 
The Arena-led coalition in the assembly seized on this proposal 
and expanded it to include some 95 percent of Phase III landhold- 
ings. This action was interpreted by interested parties both in El 
Salvador and abroad as a bid by the right to eliminate agrarian 
reform and to encourage the eviction of land recipients, a process 
that was ongoing at the time, although its extent was difficult to 
quantify; it led directly to a limitation by the Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee of the United States Congress on military 
and Economic Support Funds (ESF) aid to El Salvador. Although 
Arena's most important domestic constituency — the economic 
elite — continued to advocate the limitation if not the elimination 
of agrarian reform, it was clear that such efforts in the Constituent 
Assembly would have negative repercussions. The failure of Arena's 
leadership to take this fact into account and its seeming inability — or 
unwillingness — to seek compromise and accommodation on this 
and other issues contributed to its eventual loss of influence among 
center-right assembly delegates and the military leadership. 

In August 1982, in an effort to bring the areneros under control 
and to prevent them from sabotaging not only the reforms but 
perhaps the entire fledgling democratic system, Magana, appar- 
ently at the strong urging of the military chiefs and the United 
States, brought together representatives of Arena, the PDC, and 
the PCN to negotiate a "basic platform of government." In what 
became known as the Pact of Apaneca, the parties agreed on cer- 
tain broad principles in the areas of democratization, the protec- 
tion of human rights, the promotion of economic development, the 
preservation of economic and social reforms, and the protection 
of the country's security in the face of the violent conflict with leftist 
insurgent forces. Organizationally, the pact established three com- 
missions: the Political Commission to work out a timetable and 
guidelines for future elections, the Human Rights Commission to 
oversee and promote improvements in that area, and the Peace 
Commission to explore possible resolutions of the civil conflict. The 
guidelines established by the pact eased the chaotic governmental 
situation to some degree; they were also significant in that they 
brought Arena into a formal governmental association with more 
moderate actors, such as the PDC, and committed the areneros, at 
least in principle, to the preservation of some degree of reform. 


Government and Politics 

The pact did not put an end to infighting among the political 
parties, however. Magafia, lacking a political power base or con- 
stituency beyond the good will of the military, found it frustrating 
to try to exert authority over his cabinet ministers, particularly those 
drawn from the ranks of Arena. This conflict came to a head in 
December 1982, when Magafia dismissed his health minister, an 
arenero, for refusing to comply with the president's directives. Arena 
party leadership advised the minister to reject the president's action 
and to retain his post. This proved to be a miscalculation on the 
part of Arena, as Magafia went on to have the dismissal approved 
by a majority of the Constituent Assembly. Again in this instance, 
the behind-the-scenes support of the military worked in favor of 
the provisional president and against Arena. 

The damage done to Arena's prestige by the dismissal of the 
health minister was compounded by the party's efforts to influence 
the appointment of his successor. Magafia proposed a member of 
the small, moderate AD for the post. The areneros, particularly Con- 
stituent Assembly president D'Aubuisson, saw this (not without 
justification) as an effort to diminish their influence in the govern- 
ment and sought to defeat the appointment through parliamen- 
tary maneuvering. They succeeded only in delaying approval, 
however. Furthermore, after the vote the assembly amended its 
procedures to limit the power of the assembly president. 

Arena was not the only party to see its standing diminish after 
the signing of the Pact of Apaneca. The PCN delegation in the 
Constituent Assembly suffered a rupture immediately after the sign- 
ing of the pact, as nine conservative deputies split from the party 
to establish a bloc they dubbed the Salvadoran Authentic Institu- 
tional Party (Partido Autentico Institucional Salvadorefio — PAISA). 
This move left the assembly more or less evenly split between con- 
servative and centrist deputies. 

The special commission charged with drafting the constitution 
finished its work in June 1983. At that time, it reported that it had 
reached agreement in almost all respects. Two major exceptions, 
however, were agrarian reform and the schedule and procedure 
for presidential elections. These issues were left to the Constituent 
Assembly to resolve. 

Of all the constitutional provisions debated in the Constituent 
Assembly, those dealing with agrarian reform were the most con- 
tentious. In light of the decline in the Arena coalition's standing 
and influence and the corresponding gains of the PDC and its 
moderate allies, eliminating the reforms altogether was ruled out. 
The conservatives retained enough clout, however, to limit the pro- 
visions of the original decrees. Their major victory in this regard 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

was the raising of the maximum allowable landholding under Phase 
II of the reform from 100 to 245 hectares, an action that addressed 
the concerns of some well-to-do landowners but that put a crimp 
in redistribution efforts by reducing the amount of land subject 
to expropriation. After the 1982-83 suspension, the Constituent 
Assembly twice extended Phase III of the reform; the government 
accepted applications for title under this phase until July 1984. 

Aside from the sections dealing with agrarian reform, the draft 
constitution was approved by the Constituent Assembly without 
an excess of debate. One exception was the article dealing with 
the death penalty. The version finally approved by the assembly 
endorsed capital punishment only in cases covered by military law 
when the country was in a state of declared war. These restric- 
tions effectively eliminated the death penalty from the Salvadoran 
criminal justice system. Consideration of the draft document by 
the full Constituent Assembly began in August 1983; the final ver- 
sion was approved by that body in December. The effective date 
of the Constitution was December 20, 1983. The Constituent 
Assembly, having completed its mandate, was dismissed at that 
point, only to be reconvened on December 22 as the Legislative 
Assembly. The membership of the body remained the same. 

The Document 

The Constitution of 1983 is in many ways quite similar to the 
constitution of 1962, often incorporating verbatim passages from 
the earlier document. Some of the provisions shared by the two 
charters include the establishment of a five-year presidential term 
with no reelection, the right of the people to resort to "insurrec- 
tion" to redress a transgression of the constitutional order, the 
affirmation (however neglected in practice) of the apolitical nature 
of the Salvadoran armed forces, the support of the state for the 
protection and promotion of private enterprise, the recognition of 
the right to private property, the right of laborers to a minimum 
wage and a six-day work week, the right of workers to strike and 
of owners to a lockout, and the traditional commitment to the 
reestablishment of the Republic of Central America (see El Sal- 
vador and the United Provinces of Central America, ch. 1). 

The Constitution consists of 11 titles, subdivided into 274 articles. 
Title One enumerates the rights of the individual, among them the 
right to free expression that "does not subvert the public order," 
the right of free association and peaceful assembly for any legal pur- 
pose, the legal presumption of innocence, the legal inadmissibility 
of forced confession, and the right to the free exercise of religion — 


Government and Politics 

again, with the stipulation that such exercise remain within the 
bounds of "morality and public order." 

Title One, however, also specifies the conditions under which 
constitutional guarantees may be suspended and the procedures 
for such suspension. The grounds for such action include war, in- 
vasion, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe (natural disasters), epidemic, 
or "grave disturbances of the public order." The declaration of 
the requisite circumstances may be issued by either the legislative 
or the executive branch of government. The suspension of con- 
stitutional guarantees lasts for a maximum of thirty days, at which 
point it may be extended for an additional thirty days by legisla- 
tive decree. The declaration of suspension of guarantees grants juris- 
diction over cases involving "crimes against the existence and 
organization of the state" to special military courts. The military 
courts that functioned from February 1984 until early 1987 under 
a suspension of guarantees (or state of siege) were commonly known 
as Decree 50 courts, after the legislative decree that established 

According to the Constitution, all Salvadorans over eighteen years 
of age are considered citizens. As such, they have both political 
rights and political obligations. The rights of the citizen include 
the exercise of suffrage and the formation of political parties "in 
accordance with the law" or the right to join an existing party. 
The exercise of suffrage is listed as an obligation as well as a right, 
making voting mandatory. Failure to vote has technically been sub- 
ject to a small fine, a penalty rarely invoked in practice. 

Voters are required to have their names entered in the Electoral 
Register. Political campaigns are limited to four months preced- 
ing presidential balloting, two months before balloting for legisla- 
tive representatives (deputies), and one month before municipal 
elections (see Political Dynamics, this ch.). Members of the clergy 
and active-duty military personnel are prohibited from member- 
ship in political parties and cannot run for public office. Moreover, 
the clergy and the military are enjoined from " carry [ing] out poli- 
tical propaganda in any form." Although military personnel are 
not denied suffrage by the Constitution, the armed forces' leader- 
ship routinely instructed its personnel to refrain from voting in order 
to concentrate on providing security for polling places. 

Title Five defines the outlines of the country's "Economic 
Order." As noted, private enterprise and private property are 
guaranteed. The latter is recognized as a "social function," a phrase 
that may function as a loophole for the potential expropriation of 
unproductive land or other holdings. Individual landowners are 
limited to holdings of no more than 245 hectares but may dispose 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

of their holdings as they see fit. The expropriation of land may 
be undertaken for the public benefit in the "social interest" through 
legal channels and with fair compensation. 

Amendment of the Constitution is not a simple procedure. Initial 
approval of an amendment (or "reform") requires only a major- 
ity vote in the Legislative Assembly. Before the amendment can 
be incorporated, however, it must be ratified by a two-thirds vote 
in the next elected assembly. Since legislative deputies serve three- 
year terms, an amendment could take that long or longer to win 
passage into law. 

Governmental Institutions 

The Constitution of 1983 affirms the Salvadoran government 
as republican, democratic, and representative, as had the con- 
stitution of 1962. The government is divided into executive, 
legislative, and judicial branches. The military, although not a con- 
stitutional branch of government per se, exerts considerable in- 
fluence over the country's governance and serves as the most 
immediate representative of the government for many Salvadorans, 
particularly those in rural areas and in the zones most affected by 
the insurgency. 

The Executive 

The executive branch is made up of the president of the repub- 
lic, the vice president, ministers and vice ministers of state, and 
their subordinate officials (see fig. 8). The president must be Sal- 
vadoran by birth, over thirty years of age, of good character, and 
a member of a legally recognized political party. The president is 
elected by direct popular vote, serves a five-year term, and may 
not run for reelection. Several categories of individuals are 
proscribed from seeking the office of president: anyone who has 
held the office of president for more than six months prior to the 
beginning of a presidential term; the spouse or relatives to the fourth 
degree of consanguinity of said officeholder; anyone who had held 
the office of president of the Legislative Assembly or president of 
the Supreme Court of Justice for one year prior to the beginning 
of a presidential term; anyone who has held the post of minister, 
vice minister, or head of an official autonomous institution for the 
same one-year period; or any professional member of the military 
who is or has been on active duty during a three-year period prior 
to the beginning of a term. The same restrictions apply to those 
holding the offices of vice president or designado (the two individu- 
als designated by the legislature as next in line after the vice presi- 
dent for presidential succession). 


Government and Politics 

The powers of the president are circumscribed to some extent 
by the Constitution. The president requires the approval of the 
Legislative Assembly in order to leave the country. He is required 
to report to the assembly upon request on any subject except secret 
military strategy. In addition, the president can be declared phys- 
ically or mentally incapacitated by a two- thirds vote of the assembly. 

The president is charged with the "direction of foreign relations" 
and is designated the commander in chief of the armed forces. He 
is required to report to the Legislative Assembly within the first 
two months of each year on developments within the country and 
the government during the course of the previous calendar year 
(the Salvadoran "state of the union" address). 

Ministers and vice ministers are named and removed by the presi- 
dent. They are required to be Salvadoran by birth and over twenty- 
five years of age. Together with the president and vice president, 
the Council of Ministers (or cabinet) produces the government 
plan — the projected requirements of the government for the com- 
ing year — and proposes a budget to the assembly at least three 
months before the beginning of the fiscal year. 

The Legislature 

The legislature is a unicameral body known as the Legislative 
Assembly. Its members are referred to as deputies (diputados) . They 
are elected every three years according to a system of proportional 
representation. The assembly elected in March 1988 was composed 
of sixty deputies and sixty alternates (suplentes). 

There is no restriction on the reelection of deputies. To serve 
in this capacity, however, one must be a Salvadoran by birth and 
over twenty-one years of age. Those prohibited from seeking elec- 
tion to the assembly include the president and vice president of 
the republic, government ministers and vice ministers, active-duty 
military personnel, and relatives of the president within the fourth 
level of consanguinity or the second level of affinity. Elected 
deputies, however, may serve as ministers or vice ministers, heads 
of official autonomous institutions, or chiefs of diplomatic missions. 
Such individuals do not participate in the business of the assembly 
but may be reintegrated into that body at the conclusion of their 
service in such a post. 

The powers of the Legislative Assembly are considerable. It is 
the body that determines the statutory laws of El Salvador. It has 
the power to levy taxes, to ratify or reject treaties negotiated by 
the executive branch with foreign governments or international 
organizations, and to regulate the civil service. The assembly also 
wields the power of the purse as the body that approves the national 


El Salvador: A Country Study 




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Government and Politics 

budget in its final form. Perhaps just as important in a political 
sense is the assembly's power to place individuals, through a major- 
ity vote, in the following posts: president (chief justice) and magis- 
trates of the Supreme Court, president of the Central Electoral 
Council, president and magistrates of an independent government 
auditing body known as the Court of Accounts (Corte de Cuen- 
tas), the attorney general, and the procurator general. By naming 
to these positions members of parties or factions opposed to the 
president, the Legislative Assembly can (and has, in some instances) 
impede the workings of government to a significant degree. The 
assembly also has the power to declare war, ratify peace treaties, 
and grant amnesty for political offenses or common crimes. 

Legislation may be introduced not only by deputies but also by 
the president, by way of his ministers; the Supreme Court, in the 
case of laws pertaining to the judiciary; and local municipal coun- 
cils, with regard to municipal taxation. A presidential veto of a 
law passed by the Legislative Assembly may be overridden by a 
two-thirds vote of that body. The executive may raise objections 
to a law on constitutional grounds; in such a case, the Supreme 
Court serves as the arbiter. If a law submitted to the Supreme Court 
by the president is ruled to be constitutional, the president is com- 
pelled to sign it into law. 

The Judiciary 

The judicial branch of government is headed by the Supreme 
Court of Justice. The number of magistrates on the Supreme Court 
is not stipulated in the Constitution but is determined by other sta- 
tutes. Magistrates are required to be Salvadoran by birth, more 
than forty years of age, and lawyers who have practiced for at least 
ten years or who have served as judges in a chamber of second 
instance for six years or on a court of first instance for nine years. 
Clergymen are prohibited from serving as magistrates. The presi- 
dent of the Supreme Court directs the business of the Supreme 
Court and functions as the head of the judicial branch. Magistrates 
are appointed by the Legislative Assembly to five-year terms. 

The Supreme Court is divided into three chambers, or solas. The 
Constitutional Chamber (Sala de lo Constitucional), composed of 
the Supreme Court president and four other magistrates, rules on 
the constitutionality of laws and hears cases involving the invoca- 
tion of amparo (restraint against the infringement of an individual's 
rights) or of habeas corpus. The remaining chambers of the 
Supreme Court, the Civil Chamber and the Criminal Chamber, 
serve as the last level of appeal in these legal categories. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Below the Supreme Court are the chambers of second instance, 
or courts of appeal. Each chamber is composed of two magistrates, 
who hear appeals of decisions handed down in the courts of first 
instance. There were fourteen chambers of second instance in 1986. 
The courts of first instance hear both civil and criminal cases; there 
were some eighty-seven such courts in 1986. The broadest level 
of the legal system is the justice of the peace courts. Numbering 
approximately 193 in 1986 and located throughout the country, 
the justice of the peace courts decide only cases involving mis- 
demeanors and minor civil suits. 

The Military 

The constitutional role of the Salvadoran armed forces is spelled 
out in Title Six, Chapter Eight of the Constitution. The military 
is charged with maintaining a representative democratic form of 
government, enforcing the no-reelection provision for the coun- 
try's president, guaranteeing freedom of suffrage, and respecting 
human rights. The armed forces as an institution is defined as 
"essentially apolitical" and obedient to established civilian author- 

It should be borne in mind that such documents tend to reflect 
ideals and goals for conduct, not the prevailing state of affairs at 
the time of their drafting. In the late 1980s, the Salvadoran armed 
forces was an evolving institution attempting to deal simultane- 
ously with a left-wing insurgency and the institutionalization of a 
democratic form of government while also seeking to deflect what 
it perceived as threats to its internal cohesion. One such threat was 
the potential investigation and possible prosecution of officers on 
human rights charges, many of them connected with the prosecu- 
tion of the war against the guerrillas, although such action was ren- 
dered less likely by the amnesty approved by the Legislative 
Assembly in 1987 as well as by the political ascendancy of Arena 
(see The Criminal Justice System, ch. 5). Given its history, the 
heightened importance of its role in dealing with the insurgents, 
and its interest in preserving its institutional integrity, the Salva- 
doran military certainly exerted political influence, particularly in 
areas of policy directly related to national security. Indeed, the 
armed forces was expected by all political actors in the country to 
play a role in the country's affairs, and its power and influence 
were accepted by all those participating in the democratic system. 

Since the political influence of the armed forces, usually exerted 
through the High Command, was exercised largely behind the 
scenes, it was in many ways difficult to measure. There were indi- 
cations, however, that the military was attempting to cooperate 


Government office buildings at Government Center, San Salvador 

with civilian democratic leaders. The minister of defense and public 
security, General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, accompanied 
President Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes to the October 1984 meet- 
ing with representatives of the FMLN-FDR in La Palma (see Left- 
Wing Extremism, ch. 5). General Vides also appeared before the 
Legislative Assembly a number of times at the request of that body 
to testify on military issues. Both the air force, by restricting aerial 
bombing, and the security forces, by showing restraint in dealing 
with radical demonstrators in San Salvador, followed directives laid 
down by the president (see The Military under Democratic Rule, 
1984-88, ch. 5). Perhaps the best evidence of military restraint 
under the emerging democratic system was the fact that, as of late 
1988, the High Command had made no move to overthrow the 
existing government by force, despite several reported appeals from 
Salvadoran political factions to do so. 

Another important development with regard to the military's 
political role concerned its relationship with other actors, particu- 
larly the elite and the political parties. By supporting a govern- 
ment headed by a Christian democratic president and assisting in 
the implementation of agrarian reform measures, the armed forces 
demonstrated in the 1980s that their previous ties with the elite, 
particularly the agrarian elite, no longer compelled them to resist 
almost every form of social and political change. The dissociation 
by the military from direct institutional support of any political 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

party — in contrast to its virtual control of the PCN during the 1960s 
and 1970s — also enhanced the armed forces' political independence. 

Local Government 

El Salvador is divided into fourteen administrative divisions called 
departments, the equivalent of states in the United States (see 
fig. 1). Each department is administered by a governor appointed 
by the president. An alternate for each governor is also designated. 
Governors must be Salvadoran by birth, over twenty-five years 
of age, and residents of their department for at least two years prior 
to their appointment. 

Below the departmental level, El Salvador is divided into 261 
municipalities (or municipios, the equivalent of counties in the United 
States). Each municipio is governed by a municipal council com- 
posed of a mayor {alcalde), a legal representative (stndico), and two 
or more council members (regidores). The number of regidores is de- 
termined by the population of the municipio. Members of the 
municipal councils must be more than twenty-one years of age and 
residents of the municipio in which they serve. Directly elected, 
municipal officials serve three-year terms and may be reelected. 
Municipios are not all of equal size but are required to have a popu- 
lation of at least 10,000; municipal boundaries are determined by 
the Legislative Assembly. 

The powers of local government are circumscribed by those of 
the central government. Because department governers are ap- 
pointed by the president, their independence is questionable. 
Despite their status as elected representatives, the powers of 
municipal officeholders are also limited in certain key areas. The 
most glaring example is taxation. Although the municipal coun- 
cils are allowed to suggest local taxes and tax rates, only the Legis- 
lative Assembly has the power to actually levy taxes. Therefore, 
all funds utilized by the councils are appropriated and disbursed 
by the assembly, although such funds are earmarked in the bud- 
get and are not incorporated into the central government's gen- 
eral fund. Among the duties relegated to the municipal councils 
under the Salvadoran Municipal Code are the holding of town meet- 
ings (cabildos abiertos) at least once every three months. The coun- 
cil is enjoined from acting against the majority opinion expressed 
at the cabildos abiertos. The municipal councils also grant legal 
recognition (personalidadjuridica) to communal associations in their 
municipios. The councils are required to meet periodically with 
representatives of the communal associations and to consult with 
them on the appointment of representatives to advisory and other 


Government and Politics 

local commissions. The councils also issue local ordinances and 

Political Dynamics 
Electoral Procedures 

Electoral procedures in El Salvador are governed by the Elec- 
toral Code, which was updated by the Legislative Assembly in Janu- 
ary 1988. The system it established is in some ways cumbersome 
and open to abuse but adheres closely to electoral procedures fol- 
lowed in most Latin American countries. 

The organization in charge of administering electoral procedures 
is the Central Electoral Council (Consejo Central de Elecciones), 
which consists of three members and three alternates elected for 
five-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. Nominees for the coun- 
cil are drawn from the ranks of the leading political parties or coa- 
litions, as determined by the vote totals in the most recent 
presidential elections. The president of the Central Electoral Council 
serves as the chief administrator and the ultimate authority on ques- 
tions of electoral procedures. 

In order to cast their votes, all citizens are required to obtain 
from the Central Electoral Council an electoral identification card 
(carnet electoral) certifying their inscription in the national Electoral 
Register. The carnet electoral is presented at the individual's polling 
place and is the only form of identification accepted for this pur- 
pose. The card must bear the voter's photograph, signature (if liter- 
ate), and right thumbprint. The carnet electoral is valid for five years 
from the date of issue. 

The issuing of carnets electorates and the related maintenance of 
the Electoral Register are the most cumbersome aspects of the elec- 
toral system, particularly in rural areas where voters' access to their 
municipal electoral boards frequently is impeded by poor trans- 
portation and the effects of the insurgent war. Rural voter regis- 
tration has also been hampered by direct and indirect coercion by 
the guerrilla forces, who have described national elections as a sham 
and a component of a United States-designed counterinsurgency 
strategy. These and other factors, including a general disenchant- 
ment with the electoral process based in large part on the failure 
of the government to end the insurgency and improve economic 
conditions, contributed to a gradual decline in voter turnout dur- 
ing the 1982-88 period. Whereas some 80 percent of the elec- 
torate turned out for the Constituent Assembly balloting in 1982, 
only an estimated 65 percent voted in the first round of presiden- 
tial balloting in March 1984. This was followed by turnouts of 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

approximately 66 and 60 percent in the 1985 and 1988 legislative 
and municipal elections, respectively. 

The Central Electoral Council, in coordination with its depart- 
mental and municipal electoral boards, determines the number and 
location of polling places. This process is to be completed at least 
fifteen days prior to balloting. Although the Electoral Register and 
final vote tallies are processed at least partially by computer, paper 
ballots are utilized at the polling places. Ballots are deposited in 
clear plastic receptacles to reduce the possibility of fraud. All political 
parties are entitled to station a poll watcher at each balloting site 
to reduce further the opportunity for vote manipulation. 

Polling places are open from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., at which 
time the officials at each site begin the preparation of an official 
record of the results. This record includes a preliminary vote count 
by party, an inventory of ballots issued to the polling place (the 
discrepancy between ballots issued and ballots used is not to exceed 
300), and accounts of challenges received and any unusual inci- 
dents or occurrences during the course of the voting. Poll watch- 
ers scrutinize the record's preparation and are entitled to a copy 
of the final product. As a result, political parties frequently are able 
to issue preliminary electoral results well in advance of the official 

These records from the polling places are forwarded to the local 
municipal electoral board, where a record for the entire municipio 
is prepared. The municipal voting records are conveyed to the Cen- 
tral Electoral Council by way of the departmental electoral boards. 
The council conducts the final scrutiny of the records; this process 
must be undertaken no later than forty-eight hours after the clos- 
ing of the polls. Copies of voting records are also provided to the 
office of the attorney general as a further safeguard against tam- 

In the case of presidential elections, the Central Electoral Council 
can declare a winner only if one ticket receives an absolute majority 
of all votes cast. If no one party or coalition receives such a majority, 
as happened in the March 1984 elections, the council is required 
to schedule within thirty days a runoff election between the two 
leading vote-getters. The declaration of winners in legislative bal- 
loting is less direct; here, voters cast their ballots for parties more 
than for individuals, since seats in the Legislative Assembly are 
allotted to registered candidates roughly on a proportional basis 
according to the departmental vote totals of their party or coali- 
tion. Municipal elections are more straightforward, with the win- 
ners decided according to their showing in the municipal vote tallies. 


Voters in line at a polling place 
Courtesy United States Department of Defense 

The protracted insurgent war exerted pressure on the govern- 
ment to adjust its electoral procedures. In areas where guerrilla 
control prevented the establishment of polling places, voters were 
urged to cast their ballots at the nearest secure location. Some polling 
places in departmental capitals were required to have on hand elec- 
toral records for rural voters who had relocated from war zones. 
In some towns, so-called national polling stations were set up to 
accommodate displaced voters from other departments. These sta- 
tions were required to have on hand electoral registration data for 
the entire country. Guerrilla-engineered transportation stoppages, 
attacks on public buildings, and sabotage of the electrical system 
impeded voting as well, especially in rural areas. Indeed, many 
of these actions were undertaken with the specific intention of 
deterring voters from participation. 

In addition to overseeing elections, the Central Electoral Coun- 
cil is also charged with the official recognition of political parties. 
Initial petitions to the council for the formation of a party require 
the support of at least 100 citizens. This group then is granted sixty 
days to secure the signatures of at least 3,000 citizens and submit 
them to the council. If all the signatures are verified, the party is 
then granted legal recognition, referred to as inscription (inscrip- 
cion). The party's inscription can be revoked if it fails to receive 
at least 0.5 percent of the total national vote cast in a presidential 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

or legislative election, or if the party fails to participate in two con- 
secutive elections. Parties are allowed to form coalitions at the na- 
tional, departmental, or municipal levels without forfeiting their 
separate inscriptions. 

Political campaigns are underwritten to some extent by the state 
through the provision for "political debt." The Electoral Code 
stipulates that each party can expect to receive reimbursement 
according to the following formula: clO (for value of colon — see 
Glossary) for each valid vote cast for the party in the first round 
of a presidential election, c6 for each vote in legislative elections, 
and c4 for each vote in municipal elections. All parties are eligible 
for payment, regardless of their showing at the polls. 

The Electoral Process 

From March 1982 to March 1988, Salvadorans went to the polls 
five times to cast their ballots for members of the Constituent 
Assembly (later converted to the Legislative Assembly), the presi- 
dent, deputies of the Legislative Assembly, and municipal officials. 
This flurry of electoral activity was occasioned by the transition 
to a functional representative system of government, a decidedly 
new experience for Salvadorans. 

The first round of the 1984 presidential election was held on 
March 25. Some 1 .4 million Salvadorans went to the polls. Although 
eight candidates competed, most voters cast their ballots for the 
representative of one of the three leading parties, the PDC's Duarte, 
Arena's D'Aubuisson, or the PCN's Francisco Jose Guerrero 
Cienfuegos. The results were not immediately decisive. Duarte 
received 43 percent of the vote, D'Aubuisson 30 percent, and 
Guerrero 19. This, necessitated a runoff election on May 6 between 
Duarte and D'Aubuisson. Despite entreaties from Arena, Guerrero 
declined to endorse either candidate. It is doubtful that his endorse- 
ment would have made much difference in the balloting, given 
Duarte 's relative popularity and D'Aubuisson's reputed connec- 
tions with right-wing violence and the disapproval of his candidacy 
by the United States government. It was reported in the United 
States press after the election that the United States Central Intel- 
ligence Agency had funneled some US$2 million in covert 
campaign aid to the PDC. Nevertheless, the results of the runoff 
were surprisingly close, with Duarte garnering 54 percent to 
D'Aubuisson's 46 percent. Some observers criticized the presiden- 
tial election on the grounds that it excluded parties of the left, such 
as those represented by the FDR. Political conditions at that time, 
however, were not favorable to participation by such groups. If 
nothing else, the inability of the government to provide for the 


Government and Politics 

physical security of leftist candidates militated against their inclu- 
sion in the electoral process. 

The 1985 legislative and municipal elections were carried over- 
whelmingly by the PDC. The party achieved an outright majority 
in the Legislative Assembly, increasing its representation from 
twenty-four to thirty-three seats, and carried over 200 of the coun- 
try's municipal councils. Arena and the PCN joined as a two-party 
coalition for these elections in an effort to secure a conservative 
majority in the assembly. The terms of the coalition, whereby Arena 
agreed to split evenly the total number of seats won, resulted in 
a political embarrassment for D'Aubuisson's party, which took 29 
percent of the total vote but was awarded only one more seat (thir- 
teen to twelve) than the PCN, which had drawn only 8 percent 
of the vote. PAIS A and AD also won one seat apiece. 

The style of Salvadoran political campaigning bore little resem- 
blance to that of the United States and other institutionalized 
democracies. Personal verbal attacks between competing candidates 
and parties predominated in the media, in campaign literature, 
and at public rallies. Debate on specific issues was largely eschewed 
in favor of emotional appeals to the electorate. It was therefore not 
uncommon to hear candidates and leaders of the PDC refer to Arena 
as a "Nazi-fascist party," whereas areneros openly denounced Chris- 
tian Democrats as "communists." One of Arena leader D'Aubuis- 
son's favorite campaign embellishments was to slash open a 
watermelon with a machete; the watermelon, he told the crowds, 
was like the PDC — green (the party color) on the outside but red 
on the inside. This dramatic, personalistic type of appeal highlighted 
the lack of institutionalization of the Salvadoran democratic sys- 
tem, the intensity of emotion elicited by the political process, and 
the polarizing effect of the ongoing struggle between the govern- 
ment and leftist insurgent forces. Observers reported, however, 
that Arena spokesmen toned down their appeals during the 1988 
legislative and municipal elections in an effort to project a moder- 
ate, responsible image. 

Political Parties 

By 1988 El Salvador had a number of registered political par- 
ties participating in the democratic process. Only three, however, 
had significant folio wings: the PDC, Arena, and the PCN. 

Christian Democratic Party 

The ideological position of the Christian Democratic Party 
(Partido Democrata Cristiano — PDC) was more liberal than that 
of most Christian democratic parties elsewhere in Latin America 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

or in Western Europe. In the Salvadoran context, taking into 
account the existence of radical leftist groups such as those con- 
stituting the FMLN-FDR, the PDC could be characterized as a 
party of the center-left. The party was born out of the frustration 
of urban middle-class professionals who felt themselves excluded 
from the political process in El Salvador (see The Christian 
Democrats: A Centrist Alternative? ch. 1). From its founding in 
1960 until the early 1980s, the party and its leaders showed con- 
siderable tenacity and staying power in the face of right-wing repres- 
sion, the adamant refusal of the economic and political elite (with 
the backing of the military) to allow broad-based popular partici- 
pation in government, and the eventual defection of some of its 
members to the radical left, in the form of the FDR. The year 1979 
was a turning point for the Christian Democrats, as it was for the 
country as a whole. Party leaders' participation in the junta govern- 
ments established after the reformist coup gave them an opportu- 
nity to organize and prepare to participate in the democratic process 
initiated in 1982. Their involvement also attracted the support of 
the United States. Despite its failure to win a majority of the seats 
in the 1982 balloting for the Constituent Assembly, the PDC 
nonetheless emerged from that election as the leading political party 
in the country, a position it went on to demonstrate in the 1984 
and 1985 elections. 

The PDC reached the peak of its power after the 1985 elections. 
At that point, Duarte was still a popular figure. The party's abso- 
lute majority in the legislature was seen by him and his fellow Chris- 
tian Democrats as a mandate for the continuation and extension 
of reforms. The opposition was weakened and divided. Resent- 
ment among the areneros over their unsuccessful coalition with the 
PCN provoked a rupture between the two conservative parties. Sub- 
sequently, the PCN became more supportive of the PDC and its 
political program. 

Duarte and his party used their control of the executive and legis- 
lative branches to further the agrarian reform program first estab- 
lished by decree in 1980, to draft a new Electoral Code, to approve 
an amnesty for political prisoners, and to pass additional economic 
reform measures. The momentum that had seemed so compelling 
in the wake of the March elections, however, was eroded by events 
and was eventually lost in the tumult of politics and insurgency. 
Perhaps the first of the blows to the PDC's position was the kid- 
napping of the president's daughter, Ines Guadalupe Duarte Duran, 
in September 1985. This incident preoccupied Duarte personally, 
so that his support within the armed forces weakened, and a 


Government and Politics 

leadership vacuum developed in both the government and the PDC 
(see Left- Wing Extremism, ch. 5). 

Another major dilemma for the PDC government was the direc- 
tion of a war-ravaged economy. Although it could be justified on 
an economic basis, Duarte's 1986 package of austerity measures 
drew political fire from most major interest groups (see Interest 
Groups, this ch.; Role of Government, ch. 3). The associated cur- 
rency devaluation, always a controversial step, was especially un- 
popular. The impression that the president implemented the 
austerity measures largely in response to pressure from the United 
States also did little to enhance his prestige or that of the party. 

For most Salvadorans, the civil conflict and its attendant vio- 
lence were the problems of uppermost concern, especially insofar 
as pocketbook issues such as inflation, standard of living, and em- 
ployment were seen as closely related to the war against the leftist 
guerrillas. Duarte's personal popularity was boosted after the 
October 1984 meeting in La Palma with representatives of the 
FMLN-FDR; a war-weary population began to believe that a reso- 
lution to the conflict might be in sight. These optimistic expecta- 
tions, however, were dampened considerably as the negotiating 
process bogged down and stalled. The kidnapping of Duarte's 
daughter further hardened the president's attitude and rendered 
the prospect of a negotiated settlement during his administration 
highly unlikely. Although the majority of Salvadorans had little 
sympathy for the FMLN, Duarte's failure to achieve peace nonethe- 
less undermined his popularity and diminished the public percep- 
tion of the PDC as a viable mediator between the extremes of left 
and right. 

Another issue that tarnished the reputation of the PDC was cor- 
ruption. Rumors and allegations that had become common in El 
Salvador came to a head in March 1988 with the publication of 
an article in the New York Times indicating that as much as US$2 
million in United States economic aid might have been embezzled. 
One of the individuals named in the article was an associate of 
Alejandro Duarte, the president's son. Although the president him- 
self was never linked with corrupt practices of any kind, the ap- 
parent failure of other members of the PDC to resist the temptations 
of office was a blow to the image of a party that had throughout 
its history protested and decried the abuses of power perpetrated 
under previous governments. 

The post- 1985 decline in the fortunes of the PDC government 
closely paralleled a general popular disillusionment with the 
democratic process. By 1987 polls conducted by the Central Ameri- 
can University Jose Simeon Canas showed that slightly over 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

three-quarters of the electorate felt that no existing political party 
represented their interests. Of those respondents who did express 
a party preference, only 6 percent identified with the PDC and 
10 percent with Arena. 

Given the lack of clearly demonstrable progress in the economic, 
political, and security spheres, most observers correctly predicted 
that the PDC would lose its legislative majority in the March 1988 
elections. The scale of that loss, however, was greater than most 
had anticipated. The final official vote count yielded thirty Legis- 
lative Assembly seats for Arena, twenty-three for the PDC, and 
seven for the PCN. Arena's leaders initially protested the results, 
claiming that they had captured at least thirty-one seats and thus 
a majority in the legislature. The protest was rendered academic 
in May 1988, when a PCN deputy switched his party allegiance 
to Arena. A September 1988 ruling by the Supreme Court awarded 
the contested seat to Arena, raising its majority to thirty-two. In 
a stunning turnaround, the Christian Democrats had dropped 
eleven seats in the assembly and lost more than 200 municipal races 
to Arena. A particularly sharp blow to PDC pride was the loss of 
the mayoralty of San Salvador, a post the party had held continu- 
ously since Duarte's election as mayor in 1964. Ironically, Duarte's 
son Alejandro was the PDC candidate who was forced to concede 
defeat to the Arena candidate, Armando Calderon Sol. 

The internal cohesion of the party had begun to erode well before 
the 1988 elections. While Duarte was struggling to deal with affairs 
of state, his own party was polarizing into two personalistic, com- 
petitive factions. One of these factions was led by Julio Adolfo Rey 
Prendes, a longtime party member and associate of Duarte's. The 
other faction supported Fidel Chavez Mena, a younger technocrat 
who had disrupted a seemingly harmonious and supportive rela- 
tionship with Duarte by opposing him for the 1984 presidential 
nomination. Rey Prendes 's faction was commonly known as "the 
Ring" (La Argolla) or "the Mafia." The latter designation, used 
by members of the faction themselves, perhaps reflected Rey 
Prendes 's reputation as a backroom political wheeler-dealer. Chavez's 
followers were referred to as institucionalistas or simply as chavistas. 

Through his accumulated power within the party, Rey Prendes 
was able to influence the nomination of PDC legislative candidates 
in the 1988 elections. These deputies served as his political power 
base. The chavistas, although frozen out of the nominations to the 
Legislative Assembly, rallied to have their man nominated for presi- 
dent at a party convention in June 1988, but only after an earlier 
convention dominated by members of the Rey Prendes faction was 
ruled invalid by the Central Electoral Council. Not surprisingly, 


Government and Politics 

the earlier convention had nominated Rey Prendes as the party's 
standard bearer. 

Judging by his public inaction in the matter, Duarte awoke fairly 
late to the trouble in his own party. In an effort to settle the con- 
flict between the two contentious factions, the president proposed 
in April 1988 that both Rey Prendes and Chavez renounce their 
campaigns for the presidency in favor of a unity candidate, 
Abraham Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a founding member of the 
PDC who had run unsuccessfully for president in 1967. The fact 
that Duarte 's attempt at reconciliation was rejected immediately 
by both factional leaders demonstrated the president's diminished 
status and authority among the party's ranks. 

The decline in the fortunes of the PDC was tragically and almost 
symbolically accentuated by the announcement in June 1988 that 
President Duarte was suffering from terminal liver cancer. The 
illness might have explained to some extent Duarte' s faltering 
leadership of both the government and his party. In any case, the 
announcement seemed to punctuate the end of an era in Salva- 
doran politics. 

Nationalist Republican Alliance 

The nature of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza 
Republicana Nacionalista — Arena) as a political force in El Sal- 
vador was the object of some debate as it moved toward becoming 
a ruling party with its 1988 electoral victory. Some observers charac- 
terized Arena as the institutional representative of the "disloyal 
right," meaning those conservative forces that played the game 
of democracy while privately harboring preferences for authoritarian 
or even dictatorial rule and a restoration of the absolute political 
preeminence of the elite. Others felt that after a rocky beginning, 
Arena had moderated and extended its ideology beyond simplis- 
tic, reflexive anticommunism and was ready to assume the role of 
a conservative party that would support private enterprise and be 
willing to accept some economic reforms in response to popular 

The fortunes of Arena, like those of the PDC, were cyclical in 
nature. Although the 1982 Constituent Assembly elections yielded 
the party a leading role in that body, subsequent elections appeared 
to reflect a growing public rejection of the extremist image of Arena 
and its leader, D'Aubuisson. The nadir of the party's influence 
was reached after the 1985 elections and the unsuccessful coalition 
with the PCN. Much of the blame for the party's electoral defeats 
fell on the shoulders of D'Aubuisson. In an effort to moderate the 
party's image, D'Aubuisson was persuaded to step down as party 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

president in October 1985. He was replaced by Alfredo Cristiani 
Burkard, a member of a prominent coffee- growing family. Although 
Cristiani, who in May 1988 was designated the party's 1989 
presidential nominee, subsequently went on to project a less hyper- 
bolic public image for the party, D'Aubuisson was nevertheless 
retained as an "honorary president for life," and he continued to 
serve as a charismatic drawing card at public rallies and as a party 
spokesman in the media. San Salvador mayor Calderon Sol also 
emerged from the 1988 elections as a leading figure in the party. 

Arena's journey from obstructionist opposition to apparent 
majority status was attributable to a number of factors. With its 
support from private enterprise and large agricultural interests, 
Arena enjoyed a distinct advantage in funding over its rivals. Along 
with superior liquidity came superior organizational and propa- 
ganda capabilities. Although its elitist supporters were the most 
influential, Arena's base of support also incorporated significant 
numbers of rural peasants and, particularly in the March 1988 elec- 
tions, the urban poor. The party consistently drew some 40 per- 
cent of the peasant vote, reflecting the basic conservatism of this 
voting bloc as well as the ingrained appeal of strong caudillo leader- 
ship and a visceral response to the party's promises to prosecute 
more forcefully the war against the guerrillas. Arena also bene- 
fited from the intractable nature of the country's problems and the 
PDC's apparent inability to cope successfully with the challenge 
of governing a country torn by violence and instability. 

Arena also reportedly counted a significant percentage of the mili- 
tary officer corps as sympathizers with its views, particularly the 
party's call for a more vigorous prosecution of the counterinsur- 
gent war. D'Aubuisson, a 1963 graduate of the Captain General 
Gerardo Barrios Military Academy, apparently maintained con- 
tacts not only with members of his graduating class (tanda) but also 
with conservative junior officers. It was reported by some observers 
that D'Aubuisson' s behind-the-scenes appeals from 1984 to 1988 
were intended to foment a rightist coup d'etat against the PDC 
government. After the party's March 1988 electoral victory, such 
a drastic method of taking power appeared to be ruled out by 
Arena's seemingly bright prospects in the 1989 presidential race. 

Although Arena's surprisingly strong showing in the 1988 elec- 
tions was to a great extent a rejection of the PDC, it also seemed 
to reflect a hardening of public attitudes, particularly with regard 
to the conflict between the government and the leftist guerrillas. 
Whereas Duarte and his party had drawn support among the elec- 
torate at least in part by promising to end the fighting through 
negotiations, Arena suggested that the more effective approach was 


Government and Politics 

to step up military efforts in the field. This approach seemed to 
have the greatest appeal among the residents of conflict zones in 
the north and east of the country, where resentment of the pro- 
tracted fighting ran high. Some urban middle-class voters, once 
strong supporters of the PDC, also reportedly responded favora- 
bly to this hard-line position. 

Another aspect of Arena's appeal revolved around nationalism 
and rejection of foreign interference in Salvadoran affairs. Some 
areneros bitterly resented the perceived favoritism shown the PDC 
by the United States and blamed much of their party's misfortune 
from 1984 through 1988 on manipulation by the norteamericanos . 
Some party spokesmen such as Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, a flamboyant 
retired army colonel elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1988, 
extended their criticism beyond the political sphere into the arena 
of military tactics, publicly criticizing the role of United States mili- 
tary advisers in formulating counterinsurgent strategy. Cristiani 
also spoke out against such United States-backed innovations as 
the switch to small-unit tactics and suggested that an Arena govern- 
ment would move to abandon them (see Left-Wing Extremism, 
ch. 5). The seeming inability of the armed forces to resolve the 
insurgency by military means appeared to sharpen the public's 
receptiveness to these criticisms. 

The most immediate advantage gained by Arena through its con- 
trol of the Legislative Assembly was its ability to dictate the ap- 
pointment of candidates to important government posts, such as 
magistrates of the Supreme Court and the attorney general of the 
republic. The party's legislative agenda was uncertain in mid- 1988, 
but it seemed to entail some tinkering with land reform provisions, 
such as changing the titling procedure for cooperatives; easing the 
tax and regulatory burden on the private sector, especially the coffee 
industry; restoring private banking; and, perhaps, reprivatizing 
the foreign trade procedures. 

National Conciliation Party 

The National Conciliation Party (Partido de Conciliacion 
Nacional — PCN) was the dominant political party in El Salvador 
during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was closely associated with 
the military. Although its level of popular support was all but im- 
possible to quantify because of institutionalized electoral fraud, the 
PCN had supporters among both the elite and the rural popula- 
tion, especially in areas where the armed forces served as the 
primary governmental presence. The party's showings in the 1982 
Constituent Assembly elections and the first round of the 1984 
presidential elections were respectable; it was Guerrero's almost 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

20 percent total that forced the voting to a runoff between Duarte 
and D'Aubuisson. From that point on, however, the PCN's sup- 
port at the polls declined steadily. This appeared to be a by-product 
of the democratic transition in El Salvador. Under a system allow- 
ing open electoral competition, the military shifted its support to 
the party best positioned to ensure continued aid from the United 
States and to provide some measure of stability to the government. 
Until 1988 this party was the PDC. Deprived of its military con- 
nection, the PCN was left to fend for itself in a new and unfamiliar 
scheme of things. Given the polarizing tendencies of Salvadoran 
politics, parties without a mass base or superior organization tended 
to be marginalized. This clearly seemed to be the case with the 
PCN in the wake of the 1988 elections. 

During its years in power, the PCN was a rightist party that 
implemented limited and controlled reform in an effort to placate 
nonelite sectors, such as the peasantry and the urban middle class. 
The image of the party, however, was tarnished severely by the 
harsh repression undertaken by the military and the so-called "death 
squads" in response to growing popular unrest in the 1970s (see 
The 1970s: The Road to Revolt, ch. 1). When the armed forces 
turned to the PDC in 1980 in an effort to lend legitimacy to the 
post- 1979 junta governments, the separation of the PCN from the 
military was begun. Unfortunately for the PCN, however, the as- 
sociation between the two was strong in the public mind. Although 
this lingering perception may have helped the party among some 
rural voters, overall it was judged a liability by most observers. 
In response to this perceived image problem, the PCN in the 
mid-1980s was attempting to moderate its policy positions, adopt 
a social democratic platform, and reach out to labor and peasant 
groups. Any support that the PCN might pick up from these sources 
was expected to come at the expense of the PDC. 

Left- Wing Parties 

The major representative of the political left in El Salvador was 
the Revolutionary Democratic Front (Frente Democratico Revolu- 
cionario — FDR), a grouping of social democratic parties and the 
remnants of some of the "popular organizations" that led anti- 
government protests in the late 1970s. Up to and including the elec- 
tions of 1988, the left had been excluded from the electoral process. 
The most frequently cited impediment to leftist participation was 
right-wing violence. This was certainly a very valid consideration 
in the early 1980s, when the level of human rights violations was 
extremely high (see Right-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). 


Anti-FMLN demonstration, 
San Miguel 
Courtesy Donald C. Keffer 

By the mid-1980s, however, political violence had declined con- 
siderably, rendering the possibility of leftist participation more plau- 
sible. Such an eventuality was complicated considerably by the 
direct association of the FDR with the violent, rejectionist left as 
represented by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front 
(Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional — FMLN). The 
leadership of the FMLN clung to the position that the only legiti- 
mate elections would be those undertaken after the conclusion and 
implementation of a power- sharing arrangement between the 
government and the FMLN-FDR. Participation in elections held 
in the absence of such an agreement only served to legitimate what 
the insurgent commanders described as a puppet government of 
the United States. This extremism and intransigence by its allies 
made problematic the FDR's full inclusion in the electoral process. 
Yet another consideration for the leftist parties was the potential 
for a weak showing at the polls and the loss of prestige and bar- 
gaining power that would entail. 

Nevertheless, despite the numerous factors weighing against 
them, members of the two leading parties in the FDR coalition began 
to return from foreign exile to organize and possibly to compete in 
the 1989 presidential elections. Ruben Zamora Rivas, the leader 
of the Popular Social Christian Movement (Movimiento Popular 
Social Cristiano — MPSC), and Guillermo Manuel Ungo Revelo, 
head of the National Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Nacional Revolucionario — MNR), returned to El Salvador in 
November 1987. Wearing body armor beneath their suits, the two 
made several public appearances and were interviewed on Salva- 
doran radio and television stations. The groundwork for their dra- 
matic reappearances had been established by other, less prominent 
members of their parties who had returned to assess the political 
climate prevailing under the Duarte government. 

In December 1987, the MPSC and MNR announced that they 
were forming a political coalition that would also include the Social 
Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata — PSD), a small left- 
of-center party established in 1986. The new grouping was dubbed 
the Democratic Convergence (Convergencia Democratica — CD). 
Many observers felt that the CD was set up in order to contest the 
legislative and municipal elections of March 1988. The CD's 
announcement in January of that year that it would not field can- 
didates put an end to such speculation and bought the coalition 
additional time to contemplate its strategy for the 1989 elections. 
Public statements by Ungo and Zamora shed little light on their 
intentions in this regard. In one such statement, Ungo denied that 
the CD was intended to function as an electoral coalition. Zamora 
adhered closely to the FMLN line in a December 1987 statement 
in which he advocated the creation of a "transitional government" 
prior to the holding of general elections. Nevertheless, in March 
1988 the MPSC began the process of legal registration as a political 
party under the procedures established by the Electoral Code; sub- 
sequent press reports also indicated that electoral participation had 
been approved by the leadership of the FMLN. 

Although Ungo and Zamora denied any possibility of a split be- 
tween the FDR and the FMLN, there were definite signs of un- 
easiness between the two groups. Most of the open disagreements 
involved the FMLN's continued advocacy and employment of ter- 
rorism as a political instrument. The FDR leaders particularly dis- 
agreed with the kidnapping of Duarte 's daughter and the June 1985 
murder of thirteen people, including six United States citizens, in 
San Salvador. The return of MPSC and MNR members and their 
possible participation in the established electoral process was seen 
by some as another manifestation of the growing strains within the 
FMLN-FDR alliance. 

Other Parties 

The 1985 crisis within the ranks of Arena produced a splinter 
party that initially referred to itself as Free Fatherland (Patria Libre). 
It was led by D'Aubuisson's 1984 running mate, Hugo Barrera 
Guerrero, a prominent businessman. The early prospects for the 


Government and Politics 

party, which subsequently changed its name to the Liberation Party 
(Partido Liberacion — PL), seemed promising. A number of ob- 
servers felt that a center-right, probusiness party could pick up much 
of the support that Arena seemed to have lost in the 1984 and 1985 
elections. The PL, however, was unable to compete with Arena 
on an organizational basis and fared poorly in the 1988 elections, 
coming away without a single seat in the Legislative Assembly. 

There were several other small political parties that ran candi- 
dates in the 1988 elections but failed to garner any seats in the Legis- 
lative Assembly. One of these was the Salvadoran Authentic 
Institutional Party (Partido Autentico Institucional Salvadoreno — 
PAIS A), the conservative PCN splinter party. Another small con- 
servative party was the Authentic Revolutionary Party (Partido 
Autentico Revolucionario — PAR). Democratic Action (Accion 
Democratica — AD) was a moderate party that supported Duarte 
and the PDC in the 1984 elections but subsequently differed with 
the government's economic policies and assumed a more indepen- 
dent stance. Rounding out the field was the extreme right-wing 
Popular Orientation Party (Partido de Orientation Popular — POP). 

Interest Groups 

Private Enterprise 

Members of the private business sector relied on a number of 
organizations to articulate their positions on economic and politi- 
cal issues. These organizations served as pressure groups, inject- 
ing themselves regularly into the political arena through criticism 
of government policies, the actual or threatened shutdown of bus- 
iness and industry, and behind-the-scenes lobbying with politicians. 
The leading private enterprise organizations were the National 
Association of Private Enterprise (Asociacion Nacional de la 
Empresa Privada — ANEP), the Association of Salvadoran Indus- 
trialists (Asociacion Salvadorefia de Industrials — ASI), the Sal- 
vadoran Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Camara de 
Comercio e Industria de El Salvador), the Salvadoran Coffee Grow- 
ers Association (Asociacion Cafetalera de El Salvador — ACES), 
and the Association of Coffee Processors and Exporters (Asocia- 
cion de Beneficiadores y Exportadores de Cafe — Abecafe). Their 
membership was drawn from the economic elite, and their leader- 
ship consistently advocated a reduction in government involvement 
in industry, the reprivatization of coffee exports and foreign trade 
in general, no increase in taxes on business (usually referred to 
as "the productive sector"), no extension of the agrarian reform, 
and reductions in government spending (see Role of Government, 
ch. 3). 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Most economic issues usually found the private enterprise or- 
ganizations aligned on one side and labor and peasant organiza- 
tions on the other, with the Duarte government somewhere in 
between, attempting to mediate between the two blocs. This was 
especially true with regard to agrarian reform. The private enter- 
prise organizations, particularly the coffee growers' associations, 
opposed agrarian reform from its inception in 1980. They were 
unable to prevent implementation, however, because of a shift in 
the political climate that brought too many other actors, including 
the PDC, the reformist military, and the United States, down on 
the side of some measure of reform. Denied their first preference 
in the matter, the private sector groups went on to advocate limi- 
tations on the terms of the reforms. These were enacted by the Con- 
stituent Assembly and incorporated into the 1983 Constitution. By 
the late 1980s, the line taken by the private sector reflected that 
espoused by Arena, namely, that the reforms should not be re- 
scinded but should be made more efficient. 

Private-enterprise organizations provided the most significant 
opposition to the Duarte government's 1986 economic austerity 
package. From the businessmen's point of view, the most offen- 
sive aspect of the package was the so-called "war tax" on all in- 
come above US$20,000 with revenues derived from the tax to be 
applied directly to the war effort against the leftist guerrillas. In 
this as in other matters, the private sector groups worked in con- 
cert with Arena. While arenero legislators boycotted sessions of the 
Legislative Assembly in an effort to deny the PDC a quorum, the 
private-enterprise organizations called for a shutdown of business 
and industry on January 22, 1987. The business strike was quite 
effective, closing a reported 80 percent of Salvadoran stores, fac- 
tories, and professional and nonprofessional services. Although im- 
pressive, this demonstration of economic power by the private sector 
had no immediate effect on government policy. The issue eventu- 
ally was rendered moot, however, in February 1987 when the war 
tax was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. 

The January 1987 strike was but another chapter in a long his- 
tory of confrontation between the private sector and the PDC . Bit- 
terly opposed to Duarte 's election in 1984, the ASI publicly 
denounced Duarte and his party as adherents to the same ideol- 
ogy as that of the FMLN. The PDC, according to the industri- 
alists, differed only in its "method and strategies" for achieving 
socialism. Although he responded to the attacks in kind during the 
campaign, Duarte attempted after his election to reassure business 
leaders that he was not antagonistic to private enterprise. The agen- 
das of the PDC and the private sector were too divergent, however, 


Government and Politics 

and attitudes generally were hardened between the two as economic 
conditions failed to improve and the insurgency ground on inter- 

Labor and Campesino Groups 

Although labor confederations have existed for decades in El 
Salvador, their political input has been limited by their small 
membership — officially, only nonagricultural workers have been 
allowed to organize — and by the exclusionary nature of the politi- 
cal system. Under military rule, the only unions with influence were 
those with ties to the armed forces or its associated ruling party. 
The political ferment that began to make itself felt in the late 1970s, 
however, was reflected in the labor movement. The real and press- 
ing grievances of workers and peasants, who began to organize into 
unsanctioned interest groups of their own, led them to enlist in 
the growing number of unions affiliated with the so-called mass 
organizations or popular organizations. These organizations took 
a much more militant, antigovernment line than did the old, estab- 
lished labor unions. Ultimately, the leaders of the mass organiza- 
tions, supportive of the revolutionary goals of the FMLN, were 
more concerned with the promotion of their political agenda than 
with the attainment of better wages and working conditions for the 
rank and file. By the early 1980s, strikes, demonstrations, and pro- 
tests by these groups had contributed to an atmosphere of uncer- 
tainty, instability, and political polarization in El Salvador. In the 
violent right-wing backlash that followed, members of moderate, 
prodemocratic, nonconfrontational unions were murdered along 
with the militant supporters of the mass organizations. This 
repression — both official and unofficial — temporarily removed labor 
groups as participants in the political arena. The situation began 
to change as democratic institutions evolved in the wake of the 1982 
Constituent Assembly elections. 

Duarte won the presidency with the support of a number of 
groups in Salvadoran society who felt that their interests could best 
be served by the extension of economic reform. Most of these 
groups — middle-class professionals, small business people, labor 
unions, and peasants — also believed that a just resolution to the 
civil conflict was a necessary prerequisite to economic reactivation. 
In terms of numbers, the most important of these sectors were the 
labor and peasant organizations. In February 1984, Duarte signed 
a "social pact" with the major centrist grouping, the Popular 
Democratic Unity (Unidad Popular Democratica — UPD). This 
agreement called for the full implementation of agrarian reform, 
government support for union rights, incorporation of union and 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

peasant leaders into the government, and continued efforts to cur- 
tail human rights violations and to end the civil conflict. 

From the point of view of labor and peasant groups, the Duarte 
government failed to follow through on the pledges made under 
the social pact, and, as a result, the UPD began to unravel. In 
early 1984, the UPD had been the leading labor and peasant group- 
ing in both numbers and influence. It was an umbrella group made 
up of the country's leading labor federation — the Federation of 
Unions of the Construction Industry and Kindred Activities, Trans- 
portation, and Other Activities (Federacion de Sindicatos de la 
Industria de la Construccion, Similares, Transporte y de Otras 
Actividades — Fesinconstrans); its largest peasant group, the Sal- 
vadoran Communal Union (Union Comunal Salvadorena — UCS); 
and three smaller groups. In August 1984, some three months after 
Duarte 's election, the leadership of the three smallest UPD affili- 
ates called a press conference to denounce Duarte for his lack of 
compliance with the social pact. Leaders of Fesinconstrans and the 
UCS, who were not consulted before or included in the press con- 
ference, publicly dissociated themselves from the statements made 
there. This incident precipitated a political and ideological split 
within the labor movement that showed little sign of abating by 
the late 1980s. 

Documents seized by government forces after a shootout with 
a rebel group in April 1985 shed some light on the leadership cri- 
sis within the UPD. According to the documents, three union lead- 
ers (although not named, they were presumed by most analysts 
to be the leaders who called the 1984 press conference) were col- 
laborating clandestinely with the FMLN and were receiving bribes 
to assume a confrontational stance with the government. The coor- 
dination of actions among the FMLN, leftist unions, and certain 
militant human rights and refugee groups seemed to be confirmed 
by another cache of rebel documents seized in April 1987. Whatever 
the motivation, the split in the UPD leadership prompted the more 
moderate leadership of Fesinconstrans and the UCS to explore the 
possibility of establishing a new labor confederation. This organi- 
zation, christened the Democratic Workers' Confederation (Con- 
federacion de Trabajadores Democraticos — CTD), was founded 
in December 1984. In March 1986, the CTD and the UCS joined 
with a number of other labor and peasant groups to form the Na- 
tional Union of Workers and Peasants (Union Nacional de Obreros 
y Campesinos — UNOC). UNOC characterized itself as a labor 
organization supportive of the moderate political left; it advocated 
the continuation of the democratic process in El Salvador as well 


Government and Politics 

as the political incorporation of workers and the making of 
improvements in their quality of life. 

The leaders of the more militant and radical labor and peasant 
groups almost simultaneously established a parallel umbrella group 
to UNOC , dubbing it the National Union of Salvadoran Workers 
(Union Nacional de Trabaj adores Salvadorenos — UNTS). It in- 
cluded the remaining members of the UPD, several established 
leftist labor groups, some of which maintained ties to the World 
Federation of Trade Unions, a front group of the Communist Party 
of the Soviet Union; a peasant organization known as the Nation- 
al Association of Peasants (Asociacion Nacional de Campesinos — 
ANC); and a leftist student group, the General Association of Sal- 
vadoran University Students (Asociacion General de Estudiantes 
Universitarios Salvadorenos — AGEUS). Although it claimed that 
its membership rivaled that of the 350,000-strong UNOC, most 
observers agreed that the UNTS represented only 40,000 to 50,000 
members at most. 

President Duarte, the armed forces, and representatives of the 
United States maintained that the UNTS was penetrated and con- 
trolled by the FMLN. This allegation was not universally accepted, 
however. Whether coordinated with FMLN strategy or not, the 
actions of the UNTS appeared calculated to undermine the legiti- 
macy of the Duarte government and to promote unrest and insta- 
bility in urban areas, particularly San Salvador. UNTS affiliates 
staged numerous strikes, mainly in the capital, most of which were 
declared illegal by the government because the demands of the union 
leadership were judged to be more political than economic in na- 
ture. Some unions demanded the president's resignation as a con- 
dition of settlement. Many of the strikes were endorsed by the 
FMLN over the clandestine radio station Radio Venceremos oper- 
ated by the guerrilla group known as the People's Revolutionary 
Army (Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo — ERP). The largest mass 
antigovernment demonstration organized by the UNTS took place 
in February 1986; estimates of the number of participants ranged 
from 7,000 to 12,000. A generally progovernment rally organized 
by UNOC the following month drew a considerably larger turnout, 
estimated at up to 65,000. 

Although it opposed the militant strategy of the UNTS and sup- 
ported the reforms decreed by the junta governments and main- 
tained under the PDC , UNOC also displayed disillusionment with 
Duarte and his seeming inability to improve workers' standard of 
living or to wind down the insurgency. UNOC's influence, 
however, began to wane by 1985. This development was attributa- 
ble mainly to internal leadership struggles within Fesinconstrans 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

and the UCS. Ironically, the catalyst for these conflicts was found 
not in the failure of the social pact with the PDC but in its partial 
fulfillment. Labor and peasant leaders who had been appointed 
to government posts, mainly in the institutions administering agrar- 
ian reform and credit facilities, were exploiting the patronage poten- 
tial of their positions to expand their personal following among the 
rank and file. Resentment over this tactic prompted challenges from 
union leaders and members who either felt excluded from the 
patronage process or who objected to the practice on ethical 
grounds. UNOC's lack of concerted involvement in the PDC legis- 
lative victory of 1985 lessened its influence with the government 
and perhaps made it easier for Duarte to follow the course of eco- 
nomic austerity that eventually drew fire from both the private sector 
and labor groups from across the political spectrum. 

Just as the UNTS represented the militant leftist position among 
Salvadoran labor and peasant groups and UNOC affected a more 
moderate, center-left stance, there were also conservative labor 
groups still functioning in the late 1980s. The two leading organi- 
zations in this category were the General Confederation of Unions 
(Confederacion General de Sindicatos — CGS) and the National 
Confederation of Workers (Confederacion Nacional de Traba- 
jadores — CNT). Their numbers were small — CGS membership 
was estimated at 7,000 in 1986 — and their political influence cor- 
respondingly low. By 1988, however, as Arena took control of the 
legislative branch and seemed poised to win the presidency, the 
position of these conservative labor groups may well have been en- 
hanced, if only because moderate organizations such as UNOC 
were all but certain to see their leverage with the government dimin- 
ish considerably. The radical UNTS, which was condemned as a 
rebel front group even by the Duarte administration (although it 
seemed clear that the majority of rank-and-file UNTS members 
were not FMLN sympathizers), could look forward to little or no 
sympathy from an Arena government. 

The Roman Catholic Church 

The Salvadoran Roman Catholic Church has been affected by 
the country's political and social turmoil. During the tenure of Mon- 
signor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez as archbishop of San 
Salvador (1977-80), the positions of the church, as expressed by 
Romero, drifted in favor of those activist Roman Catholics who 
advocated liberation theology (see Glossary). By the time of his 
assassination in March 1980, Romero had become the leading critic 
of official and unofficial repression in El Salvador. Judging by the 
content of his weekly homilies, some observers felt that his moral 


outrage over abuses committed by armed forces personnel and death 
squad forces was drawing him closer to a public recognition of the 
legitimacy of armed struggle against the government (see The Role 
of Religion, ch. 2). 

Romero, however, never spoke for a majority of the Salvadoran 
bishops. The only other member of the hierarchy at the time who 
was known to harbor some sympathy for Romero's proliberationist 
views was Arturo Rivera y Damas. Rivera, who had been a lead- 
ing candidate for the archbishop's position in 1977 but was passed 
over in favor of the reputedly more conservative Romero, was a 
critic of government and military human rights abuses, especially 
when they involved the persecution or murder of Roman Catholic 
clergy or lay workers. Under Romero, he occupied a swing posi- 
tion between the activist stance of the archbishop and the more 
conservative attitudes of the country's three remaining bishops. 
Although they readily endorsed condemnations of military repres- 
sion, the three bishops differed sharply with the thrust of libera- 
tion theology, which they saw as excessively politicized. Their 
concerns for the role of the church under a leftist government were 
strengthened by the example of postrevolutionary Nicaragua, where 
the traditional church was viewed by the ruling party as a rival 
and was harassed by the state security and propaganda apparatus. 

Rivera succeeded Romero as archbishop in April 1980. He began 
to take the sort of moderate political stance that most observers 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

had expected of Romero. Rivera spoke out against abuses by all 
parties and refused to take sides in the civil conflict. He initially 
advocated the cessation of foreign military aid to both sides. By 
the late 1980s, however, the church's position on this point had 
softened somewhat, owing to the ideological intransigence of the 
FMLN and the seemingly indiscriminate deployment of antiper- 
sonnel mines by its forces. In line with the position of the Vatican, 
Rivera sought to eschew political advocacy in favor of moral sua- 
sion so as to render the church a viable mediator in the conflict. 

Rivera and other representatives of the church, particularly San 
Salvador auxiliary bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, have served as 
mediators in situations ranging from labor disputes to negotiations 
between the government and the FMLN-FDR. At President 
Duarte's request and with the acquiescence of the rebel leadership, 
Archbishop Rivera served as an intermediary throughout the fit- 
ful process of dialogue that began with the October 1984 meeting 
in La Palma (see Left-Wing Extremism, ch. 5). When that process 
broke down, the archbishop maintained contacts with both sides 
in an effort to keep tenuous lines of communication open. 

By the late 1980s, the attitude of the Salvadoran hierarchy toward 
the guerrillas had hardened considerably. Public statements by 
Rivera and others condemned the insurgents' tactics in the field, 
their ideology, their political intransigence, and their efforts to dis- 
rupt the electoral process. The FMLN, in turn, denounced the 
bishops as tools of the "Duarte dictatorship" and questioned their 
fitness as objective mediators. Although they hinted that they might 
reject the church's participation in future negotiations, the leader- 
ship of the FMLN suggested in May 1988 that contacts between 
it and the Legislative Assembly be channeled through Rivera. 

The church publicly supported the electoral process begun in 
1982 and urged citizens to participate in it. At the same time, church 
spokesmen were quick to criticize the mudslinging nature of Sal- 
vadoran campaigning and urged politicians to stress substantive 
issues over personal attacks. Although they did not interject them- 
selves as advocates or lobbyists, the bishops generally supported 
the reform programs initiated and maintained by the PDC govern- 
ment and opposed on moral grounds any effort by the elite to re- 
strict or eliminate those reforms. In the tradition established by 
Romero, Rivera continued to condemn in his weekly homilies 
reported excesses by the military or security forces. 

Mass Communications 

By Central American standards, the Salvadoran media enjoyed 
a moderate freedom of expression and ability to present competing 


Government and Politics 

political points of view. They were not as restricted as the media 
in Nicaragua, but neither were they as diverse, pluralistic, and un- 
restricted as those of Costa Rica. Although the government did 
not exercise direct prior censorship, the owners of most publica- 
tions and some broadcast media outlets exercised a form of self- 
censorship based either on their personal political conservatism, 
fear of violent retaliation by right- or left-wing groups, or possible 
adverse action by the government, such as refusal to renew a broad- 
cast license. 

Article 6 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression 
that does not "subvert the public order, nor injure the morals, 
honor, or private life of others." This language, taken directly from 
the 1962 constitution, was rendered meaningless by official and 
unofficial repression and left-wing terrorist action against the media 
and its practitioners in the early 1980s. With the post- 1982 advent 
of a freely elected democratic system of government, however, and 
the accompanying decline in politically motivated violence, the cli- 
mate under which the press and broadcast media operated began 
to improve. 

This expansion in freedom of expression was not as evident in 
the print medium as it was in the broadcast media. Most newspapers 
were owned by conservative business people, and their editorial 
policies tended to reflect the views of their publishers rather than 
to adhere to the standards of objectivity normally expected in the 
North American or West European press. This did not mean, 
however, that the Salvadoran press was monolithically conserva- 
tive. The weekly publication of the archdiocese of San Salvador, 
Orientacion, presented critical analysis of the political scene. Read- 
ily available publications emanating from the Central American 
University presented a generally leftist, antigovernment perspec- 
tive on events. Small private presses also produced pamphlets, bulle- 
tins, and flyers expressing opinions across the political spectrum. 
The leading daily newspapers in the late 1980s were El Diario de 
Hoy, with a circulation of approximately 75,000; El Mundo, with 
approximately 60,000; and La Prensa Grdfica, with approximately 
100,000, all published in San Salvador. 

Freedom of expression in print was best exemplified by the com- 
mon practice of taking out paid political advertisements, or campos 
pagados. Most newspapers accepted such advertisements from all 
sources. Campos pagados were one of the few means of access to the 
print medium available to leftist groups such as the FMLN-FDR 
and other like-minded organizations. Campos pagados also were fre- 
quently employed by political parties, private sector groups, unions, 
government agencies, and other groups to express their opinions. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The content of the advertisements was unregulated and uncensored. 
Their cost effectively limited their use to groups and organizations 
rather than to individuals. 

The influence of the press was limited by illiteracy and the con- 
centration of publishing in the capital. Radio did not suffer from 
these handicaps and consequently was the most widely utilized 
medium in the country. In 1985 Salvadorans owned an estimated 
2 million radio receivers. Although the majority of the seventy-six 
stations on the air broadcast from San Salvador, the country's small 
size and the use of repeater stations meant that virtually all of the 
national territory was within broadcast range. There was only one 
government-owned radio station. Although the commercial stations 
tended to emphasize music over news programming, the represen- 
tation of competing political viewpoints in news segments was be- 
coming a common practice by the mid-1980s. In addition to the 
ERP's Radio Venceremos, the Farabundo Marti Popular Libera- 
tion Forces (Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion Farabundo Marti — 
FPL) operated a second clandestine station, Radio Farabundo 
Marti. Both stations served as propaganda organs of the FMLN. 

According to many observers, television was the medium where 
increased political latitude was most evident. Television news crews 
covered press conferences held by diverse political groups, inter- 
viewed opposition politicians such as the FDR's Ungo and Zamora, 
and investigated allegations of human rights abuses by the mili- 
tary and security forces. Like radio stations, television stations en- 
joyed virtually complete coverage of the country. Television did 
not have the market penetration exhibited by radio, however, be- 
cause of the higher cost of television receivers. A 1985 estimate 
placed the number of receivers at 350,000. There were six televi- 
sion channels operating in the late 1980s. Of these, two were 
government-owned educational channels with limited air time. The 
remaining four were commercial channels. 

Foreign Relations 

Relations with the United States 

As the civil conflict intensified after 1981 and its effects rippled 
through the economic and political life of the nation, El Salvador 
turned toward the United States in an effort to stave off a poten- 
tial guerrilla victory. The administrations of presidents Jimmy 
Carter and Ronald Reagan responded to the Salvadorans' appeals, 
and by the mid-1980s government forces appeared to have the upper 
hand in the field (see The United States Takes a Hand, ch. 1). 

Total United States aid to El Salvador rose from US$264.2 mil- 
lion in fiscal year (FY — see Glossary) 1982 to an estimated US$557.8 


Government and Politics 

million in FY 1987. On average over this period, economic aid 
exceeded military aid by more than a two-to-one ratio. Economic 
aid was provided in the form of Economic Support Funds (ESF), 
food aid under Public Law 480 (P.L. 480), and development aid 
administered by the United States Agency for International De- 
velopment (AID). ESF was intended to provide balance of pay- 
ments support to finance essential non-food imports. Assistance 
with food imports as well as the direct donation of foodstuffs was 
accomplished through the P.L. 480 program. Development aid 
covered a broad spectrum of projects in such fields as agriculture, 
population planning, health, education, and training. For FY 1987, 
regular non- supplemental ESF appropriations totaled US$181.7 
million, and combined food and development aid amounted to 
US$122.7 million. The regular FY 1987 appropriation for mili- 
tary aid was US$116.5 million. 

This aid was crucial to the survival of the Salvadoran govern- 
ment and the ability of the armed forces to contain the insurgency. 
The situation amplified the personal importance of Duarte after 
his 1984 election to the presidency. Well known and respected in 
Washington, Duarte was able to foster a consensus within the 
United States Congress for high levels of aid as a show of support 
for the incipient democratic process in his country. These large 
aid allocations, in turn, promoted stability by deterring possible 
coup attempts by conservative factions of the military and other 
opponents of PDC rule. At the same time, the lifeline of aid also 
rendered El Salvador dependent to a large degree on the United 
States. A certain amount of popular resentment over this depen- 
dence was reflected in adverse reaction from some Salvadoran poli- 
ticians, journalists, and other opinion makers to Duarte' s October 

1987 gesture of kissing the United States flag while on a visit to 
Washington. Some analysts also identified an element of anti-United 
States sentiment in Arena's March 1988 electoral victory. 

El Salvador's dependence on United States support sometimes 
led to policy moves or public pronouncements that were perceived 
as responses to pressure from Washington. The 1986 economic 
austerity measures were one example. Another was Duarte 's re- 
peated call for the Nicaraguan government to negotiate with its 
armed opposition — the so-called contras — in spite of the president's 
public refusal to endorse the United States policy of aid to the con- 
tras. El Salvador also was quick to condemn Panamanian strong- 
man General Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno for his February 

1988 ouster of President Eric Arturo Delvalle; most Latin Ameri- 
can countries were somewhat circumspect with regard to the 
Panamanian situation, not wishing to be seen as favoring United 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

States intervention in that country. Some actions by the Salvadoran 
government were clearly and unequivocally influenced by direct 
United States pressure, such as Duarte 's April 1987 decision to 
deny political amnesty to the convicted killers of six United States 
citizens and others in a June 1985 terrorist attack in San Salvador. 
By taking this action, Duarte averted the loss of US$18.5 million 
in economic aid. 

Although the United States exerted significant influence over 
government policy in El Salvador, it did not enjoy the absolute 
control ascribed to it by leftist propaganda. In some areas, Washing- 
ton's policy goals were frustrated by the intransigence of certain 
political actors. The obstruction of full implementation of agra- 
rian reform by conservative legislators was one example; another 
was resistance among the officer corps to the introduction of coun- 
terinsurgency tactics. Perhaps the most vexing issue for United 
States policymakers was human rights. Despite an impressive 
statistical decline in the mid-1980s, political killings continued. 
These acts, perpetrated by both right-wing and left-wing groups, 
helped to feed the climate of violence that inhibited the institution- 
alization of the democratic process. 

United States influence in El Salvador was also diminished tem- 
porarily by the 1986-87 revelations surrounding the so-called Iran- 
Contra Affair. The Reagan administration's preoccupation with 
these revelations, its loss of international prestige in connection with 
them, and the embarrassing disclosure of covert Salvadoran mili- 
tary involvement in the contra supply network all combined to les- 
sen United States involvement in and influence over Salvadoran 
affairs. Many observers have seen evidence of waning United States 
influence in Central America in the Duarte administration's deci- 
sion to sign the Central American Peace Agreement in August 1987 
at Esquipulas, Guatemala, despite the last-minute announcement 
of an alternative peace plan by Reagan and United States speaker 
of the House of Representatives, James Wright. 

Another point of contention between the two governments was 
United States immigration reform. By most estimates, there were 
some 500,000 Salvadorans residing illegally in the United States 
in the late 1980s. Modifications of the United States immigration 
law enacted in 1987 technically mandated the expulsion of illegals 
who had entered the country after 1982. Since the bulk of Salva- 
doran illegal immigration took place after that date, the new law 
threatened the majority of this population with repatriation. This 
prospect was worrisome to the Duarte government for two major 
reasons: such a large influx was certain to place added strain on 
employment and public services, already areas of serious concern 


President Jose Napoleon Duarte 
Fuentes confers with President Ronald Reagan, October 1987 

Courtesy The White House 

for the government; and the return of Salvadorans resident in the 
United States meant the loss of dollar-denominated remittances regu- 
larly transmitted to family members who had remained behind in 
El Salvador. Estimates of the total amount of remittance income — a 
valuable source of foreign exchange for the economy — ranged as 
high as US$1.4 billion a year. Duarte's pleas for a Salvadoran ex- 
emption from the immigration reform were denied by the White 
House. Action to deport Salvadoran illegals, however, was held up 
pending consideration in the United States Congress of bills grant- 
ing exemptions to Salvadoran and Nicaraguan immigrants. 

Relations between the United States and El Salvador appeared 
to be entering a period of transition after the March 1988 elections. 
Under both the Carter and the Reagan administrations, United 
States policy had supported the centrist PDC as the surest path to 
the development of a functional democratic system. The decline of 
the PDC and the ascendancy of Arena called for some adjustment 
in that policy. Despite some marked anti-United States sentiment 
among the areneros, there were no early indications of potential fric- 
tion between the United States and an Arena government. The nomi- 
nation of Cristiani as the party's 1989 presidential candidate instead 
of the more controversial D'Aubuisson was seen by some observers 
as a conciliatory gesture toward Washington. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The Crisis in Central America 

During the Duarte administration, most Salvadoran foreign pol- 
icy efforts were focused on Central America and the potential reso- 
lution of political conflict that manifested itself in the form of 
antigovernment insurgencies in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and 
Guatemala. Although Costa Rica and Honduras had not ex- 
perienced insurgencies, their governments were concerned with 
potential political spillover from neighboring states. By the early 
1980s, most observers agreed that, given the historical, familial, 
geographic, and economic interrelationship of the Central Ameri- 
can states, a regional solution to this crisis was the most logical 
and efficacious approach. Early efforts toward this end in the United 
Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS), 
as well as tentative mediating efforts by the governments of Mexico 
and Venezuela, failed to make any substantive progress toward 
the institution of a regional negotiating process. It was not until 
1983 and the establishment of the Contadora Group that serious 
negotiating efforts began among the five Central American states. 

The Contadora Process 

The Contadora negotiating process was initiated in January 1983 
at a meeting of the foreign ministers of Mexico, Venezuela, Colom- 
bia, and Panama on Contadora Island in the Gulf of Panama. The 
idea of a purely Latin American diplomatic effort to stabilize the 
Central American situation and prevent either military confron- 
tation between neighboring states or direct military intervention 
by the United States was attributed to then-president of Colombia 
Belisario Betancur Cuartas. These "Core Four" countries served 
as mediators in subsequent negotiating sessions among the five Cen- 
tral American states. 

By September 1983, the negotiations had arrived at a consen- 
sus on twenty-one points or objectives. These included democrati- 
zation and internal reconciliation, an end to external support for 
paramilitary forces, reductions in weaponry and foreign military 
advisers, prohibition of foreign military bases, and reactivation of 
regional economic mechanisms such as the Central American Com- 
mon Market. The twenty-one points were incorporated into a draft 
treaty, or acta, one year later. 

In September 1984, the Nicaraguan government took the other 
four government delegations by surprise with its call for the im- 
mediate signing of the acta as a final treaty. The governments of 
El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica had been sus- 
picious of Nicaraguan intentions throughout the negotiating process. 


Government and Politics 

This precipitous rush to finalize the process forced the four to reas- 
sess their positions and to examine more closely a document that 
they previously might have viewed as little more than a diplomat- 
ic exercise. The United States government, which had been ad- 
vising the Salvadorans informally with regard to the negotiations, 
strongly recommended against signing the acta, citing its lack of 
adequate verification and enforcement provisions, its deferral of 
the issues of reductions in arms and foreign advisers, the freezing 
of United States military aid to El Salvador and Honduras, and 
the vagueness of the sections on democratization and internal recon- 
ciliation. Although Nicaragua's action had the effect of embarrass- 
ing the governments of the other four states and portraying 
Nicaragua before world public opinion as the only serious negoti- 
ator in the Contadora process, it ultimately succeeded in drawing 
the remaining four Central American states into closer consultation. 
This collaboration led to the October 1984 Act of Tegucigalpa in 
which the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica 
emphasized their commitment to the establishment of pluralistic 
democratic systems and their belief that simultaneous and verifia- 
ble arms reductions were a necessary component of this process. 
The Guatemalan government was represented in the discussions 
in the Honduran capital but declined to sign the resultant document. 

Although improved verification procedures were negotiated, the 
talks bogged down by mid- 1985. The Nicaraguan delegates rejected 
discussion of democratization and internal reconciliation as an un- 
warranted intervention in their country's internal affairs. The other 
four states maintained that these provisions were necessary to en- 
sure a lasting settlement. Another major sticking point was the ces- 
sation of aid to insurgent groups, particularly United States aid 
to the contras. Although the United States government was not a 
party to the Contadora negotiations, it was understood that the 
United States would sign a separate protocol agreeing to the terms 
of a final treaty in such areas as aid to insurgents, military aid and 
assistance to Central American governments, and joint military 
exercises in the region. The Nicaraguans demanded that any Con- 
tadora treaty call for an immediate end to contra aid, whereas the 
core four countries and the remaining Central American states, 
with the exception of Mexico, downplayed the importance of such 
a provision. In addition, the Nicaraguan government raised ob- 
jections to specific cuts in its military force levels, citing the im- 
peratives of the counterinsurgency campaign and defense against 
a potential United States invasion. In an effort to break this im- 
passe, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay 
announced in July 1985 that they were joining the Contadora 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

process as a "support group" in an effort to resolve the remaining 
points of contention and achieve a comprehensive agreement. 

Despite the combined efforts of the core four and the "support 
group," the Contadora process unofficially came to a halt in June 
1986, when the Central American countries still could not resolve 
their differences sufficiently to permit the signing of a final treaty 
draft. Later that month, the United States Congress approved 
US$100 million in aid to the contras in spite of numerous requests 
from the Contadora group to refrain from such unilateral action. 
Although the core four and support group countries vowed to con- 
tinue their diplomatic efforts and did convene negotiating sessions 
subsequent to the unsuccessful June 6 meeting in Panama City, 
the Contadora process was clearly moribund. The Central Ameri- 
can states, with the exception of Nicaragua, resolved to continue 
the negotiating process on their own without the benefit of outside 

The Arias Plan 

Throughout the Contadora negotiations, El Salvador's objec- 
tives included the preservation of its military aid and assistance 
relationship with the United States; the resolution of the civil con- 
flict on terms consistent with the 1983 Constitution — that is, through 
incorporation of the rebels into the established system rather than 
through a power- sharing arrangement; and a verifiable termina- 
tion of Nicaraguan military and logistical aid to the FMLN insur- 
gents. On the final point, the Salvadorans felt, along with the 
Hondurans and Costa Ricans, that the liberalization of the 
Sandinista-dominated government in Nicaragua was the surest 
guarantor of success. Given the unanimity of opinion among these 
three governments and the less emphatic but still supportive 
response of the government of Guatemalan president Marco Vinicio 
Cerezo Arevalo, the regional consenus of opinion seemed to be that 
a streamlined, strictly Central American peace initiative stood a 
better chance of success than the by then unwieldy Contadora 

The five Central American presidents had held a meeting in May 
1986 in Esquipulas, Guatemala, in an effort to work out their differ- 
ences over the revised Contadora draft treaty. This meeting was 
a precursor of the process that in early 1987 superseded Contadora. 
The leading proponent and architect of this process was the presi- 
dent of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez. After consultations with 
representatives of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and the 
United States, Arias announced on February 15, 1987, that he had 
presented a peace proposal to representatives of the other Central 


Government and Politics 

American states, with the exception of Nicaragua. The plan called 
for dialogue between governments and opposition groups, amnesty 
for political prisoners, cease-fires in ongoing insurgent conflicts, 
democratization, and free elections in all five regional states. The 
plan also called for renewed negotiations on arms reductions and 
an end to outside aid to insurgent forces. 

The first formal negotiating session to include representatives 
of the Nicaraguan government was held in Tegucigalpa on July 3 1 , 
1987. At that meeting of foreign ministers, the Salvadoran dele- 
gation pressed the concept of simultaneous implementation of pro- 
visions such as the declaration of cease-fires and amnesties and the 
denial of support or safehaven for insurgent forces. This approach 
reportedly softened the attitude of the Nicaraguans, who had come 
to the meeting declaring opposition to any agreement that did not 
require a prior cutoff of foreign support to the contras. 

The Tegucigalpa meeting paved the way for an August 6, 1987, 
gathering of the five Central American presidents in Esquipulas. 
The negotiations among the presidents reportedly were marked by 
blunt accusations and sharp exchanges, particularly between Duarte 
and Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega Saavedra. Duarte 's 
primary concern was Nicaraguan aid to the Salvadoran guerril- 
las, and he was reported to have pressed Ortega repeatedly on this 
issue. The Nicaraguan president's responses apparently reassured 
Duarte, who consented to sign the agreement. His decision to do 
so despite signals of disapproval from Washington reflected only 
in part the diminished influence of the Reagan administration in 
light of the Iran-Contra Affair; it was also a calculated move based 
on the Salvadoran president's belief that a more favorable treaty 
was not achievable. The final agreement, signed on August 7, called 
for the cessation of outside aid and support to insurgent forces but 
did not require the elimination or reduction of such aid to govern- 
ment forces. If they proved to be enforceable, these provisions would 
work to the benefit of the Salvadoran government and to the detri- 
ment of the FMLN, since the insurgents would be expected to forgo 
outside assistance while the government could continue to receive 
military aid from the United States. The agreement also urged di- 
alogue with opposition groups "in accordance with the law" and 
was therefore compatible with the Duarte government's efforts and 
preconditions for negotiations with rebel forces. The Salvadorans 
were already in compliance with the sections calling for press free- 
dom, political pluralism, and abolition of state-of-siege restrictions. 

The Central American Peace Agreement, variously referred to 
as the "Guatemala Plan," "Esquipulas II," or the "Arias Plan," 
initially required the implementation by November 5, 1987, of 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

certain conditions, including decrees of amnesty in those countries 
involved in insurgent conflicts; the initiation of dialogue between 
governments and unarmed political opposition groups or groups 
that had taken advantage of amnesty; the undertaking of efforts 
to negotiate cease-fires between governments and insurgent groups; 
the cessation of outside aid to insurgent forces as well as denying 
the use of each country's national territory to "groups trying to 
destabilize the governments of the countries of Central America;" 
and the assurance of conditions conducive to the development of 
a "pluralistic and participatory democratic process" in all the sig- 
natory states. 

A meeting of the Central American foreign ministers held one 
week prior to November 5 effectively extended the deadline by in- 
terpreting that date as the requirement for initiation, not comple- 
tion, of the agreement's provisions. The Salvadoran government, 
however, had already taken several steps by that time to comply 
with the agreement. Direct talks between the government and 
representatives of the FMLN-FDR held in October failed to reach 
agreement on terms for a cease-fire. The talks were broken off by 
the rebels, ostensibly in protest over the death squad-style murder 
of a Salvadoran human rights investigator. Duarte proceeded to 
declare a unilateral fifteen-day cease-fire to enable guerrilla com- 
batants to take advantage of an amnesty program approved by the 
Legislative Assembly on October 27. 

Overall compliance with the Arias Plan was uneven by late 1988, 
and the process appeared to be losing momentum. One round of 
talks took place between the Cerezo administration and represen- 
tatives of the Guatemalan guerrilla front in Madrid, Spain, on 
October 6-7, 1987. President Cerezo discontinued this effort, 
however, claiming that the guerrilla representatives had taken an 
unrealistic and unreasonable bargaining position. The Nicaraguan 
government took a number of initial steps to comply with the treaty, 
such as allowing the independent daily La Prensa to reopen and the 
radio station of the Roman Catholic Church to resume broadcast- 
ing, establishing a national reconciliation committee that incorpo- 
rated representatives of the unarmed opposition, and eventually 
undertaking cease-fire negotiations with representatives of the 
contras. The optimism engendered by the signature of a provisional 
cease-fire accord on March 23, 1988, at Sapoa, Nicaragua, how- 
ever, had largely dissipated by July, when the government broke 
up a protest demonstration in the southern city of Nandaime, ex- 
pelled the United States ambassador and seven other diplomats for 
alleged collaboration with the demonstrators, and again shut down 
La Prensa and the Catholic radio station. In El Salvador, although 


Government and Politics 

the FMLN-FDR had been persuaded by President Arias to accept 
the plan as the basis for negotiations with the Salvadoran govern- 
ment, neither side made any immediate effort to resume the direct 
talks broken off in October 1987. A definitive cease-fire, therefore, 
remained elusive. The Salvadoran government also maintained that 
the Sandinistas continued to provide aid and support to the FMLN. 
In January 1988, the Salvadorans protested before an international 
commission monitoring compliance with the treaty that the head- 
quarters of the FMLN general command continued to function from 
a location near Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, that FMLN 
training and propaganda facilities continued to operate in 
Nicaragua, and that arms deliveries from Nicaragua to El Salvador 
persisted after the signing of the peace treaty on August 7. The 
effect of the PDC's political decline and Arena's higher govern- 
ment profile on the future course of the Arias Plan was unclear 
as the country approached the 1989 presidential elections. 

El Salvador maintained normal bilateral diplomatic relations with 
the countries of Central America despite the strains of regional un- 
rest, uncertainty over the intentions of the Sandinistas, and lin- 
gering disputes with Honduras. In the late 1980s, relations with 
Guatemala, governed by an ideologically compatible Christian 
democratic government, and with Costa Rica were stable. Differ- 
ences with Nicaragua were rooted in basic ideological conflict, 
however, and appeared likely to persist. Although neighboring Hon- 
duras was experiencing a democratic transition not unlike that tak- 
ing place in El Salvador, several points of contention prevented 
the full establishment of close and cooperative ties. The most in- 
tangible of these frictions was lingering ill will, especially between 
the two countries' respective military establishments, over the 1969 
"Soccer War" (see The 1969 War with Honduras, ch. 1). Another 
dispute revolved around the future disposition of Salvadoran refu- 
gees residing in Honduras. In early 1988, there were an estimated 
20,000 such refugees housed in a number of camps in Honduras, 
some of which were administered by the office of the United Nations 
High Commissioner for Refugees (see Migration, ch. 2). Despite 
ongoing security problems posed by the insurgency, a resettlement 
program initiated in 1986 by the Salvadoran government in cooper- 
ation with domestic and international relief agencies had assisted 
in the return of some 10,000 Salvadoran refugees. Complete repatri- 
ation from the camps, as advocated by the Honduran government, 
seemed to be contingent on a further winding down of the in- 

The main stumbling block in Salvadoran-Honduran rela- 
tions, however, was the failure of the two countries to agree to a 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

demarcation of their border. This dispute was another legacy of 
the 1969 war, although it also had deeper historical roots. Several 
agreements negotiated during the nineteenth century attempted 
to define the boundaries between the two states, but periodic dis- 
putes persisted. The 1969 war further complicated this situation, 
as Salvadoran troops pushed over a border that had never been 
firmly demarcated and briefly occupied Honduran territory. So 
contentious was the territorial dispute that a final peace treaty be- 
tween the two countries was not signed until October 1980, and 
even then only 225 of the border's 343 kilometers were definitively 
delimited. The remaining disputed "pockets" (bolsones) along the 
border, along with island and maritime areas, were submitted to 
a joint border commission for resolution. At the end of its five- 
year mandate, the commission had not achieved agreement. Direct 
government-to-government talks also failed to resolve the issue. 
The dispute, therefore, was submitted to the International Court 
of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, for adjudication. A deci- 
sion was not expected until the late 1980s. 

Relations with Other Nations 

As the Salvadoran civil conflict continued during the 1980s, the 
imperative of maintaining support from the United States and the 
protracted diplomatic efforts to achieve a regional settlement in Cen- 
tral America consumed most of the country's foreign policy efforts. 
Although relations with other nations occupied a distinctly lower 
priority, the Duarte administration did make an effort to improve 
El Salvador's standing in Western Europe. 

Duarte made an official trip to Western Europe in July 1984 
with two major goals in mind: to secure foreign economic aid funds, 
some of which had been discontinued earlier in the decade as a 
result of his country's poor human rights record under military 
rule, and to convince West European leaders that real political and 
social reform was possible in El Salvador. The governments of most 
West European countries were on record as supporting the inclu- 
sion of the FDR or even the FMLN in a negotiated power-sharing 
government. The 1981 declaration by France and Mexico recog- 
nizing the FMLN-FDR as a "representative political force" was 
the most prominent product of this European foreign policy cur- 
rent. The FDR and its president, Ungo, maintained close ties with 
social democratic parties in Europe; the FDR also served as the 
Salvadoran representative to the Socialist International, the world- 
wide association of social democratic parties, and effectively used 
this forum to press its case against the existing government in El 


Government and Politics 

Duarte was received by the heads of state in the Federal Repub- 
lic of Germany (West Germany), France, Portugal, Belgium, and 
Britain. The most productive meeting from the Salvadoran stand- 
point was that with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany. 
Kohl, a Christian Democrat, announced the resumption of Ger- 
man economic aid to El Salvador, aid that had been discontinued 
five years previously by the social democratic government of Helmut 
Schmidt. Duarte was also warmly received by British prime minister 
Margaret Thatcher, although no aid agreement resulted from his 
visit. The Salvadoran president failed to achieve one specific goal 
of his trip when French president Francois Mitterrand declined to 
modify or reject the 1981 Franco-Mexican declaration. Neverthe- 
less, the French position vis-a-vis the Duarte government generally 
was perceived as more supportive after the July 1984 visit; in 1985 
France shifted the residence of its ambassador from Belmopan, 
Belize, to San Salvador, partially in recognition of improved security 
conditions in the Salvadoran capital. 

El Salvador received a limited amount of economic development 
assistance from Canada in the late 1980s. Canadian concerns over 
the increasing number of Salvadoran immigrants to that country 
as a result of more restrictive United States immigration laws, 
however, could prompt Canada to review the low priority of its 
dealings with El Salvador. In May 1988, the Salvadoran foreign 
minister paid the first official visit by a Salvadoran official to Japan. 
He returned with pledges of Japanese aid in the San Salvador recon- 
struction effort necessitated by the October 1986 earthquake, as 
well as very low-level commitments to fund or donate equipment 
for sanitation, agriculture, and sports and cultural projects. The 
Japanese government also promised to take steps to appoint a resi- 
dent ambassador. 

El Salvador did not maintain diplomatic relations with any com- 
munist countries in the late 1980s and did not recognize China. 
Its continued recognition of Taiwan reflected the historically con- 
servative thrust of the country's foreign policy. In a similar vein, 
El Salvador was one of only two countries in the world (Costa Rica 
being the other) to maintain its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem rather 
than Tel Aviv. 

* * * 

Enrique A. Baloyra's El Salvador in Transition and numerous sub- 
sequent articles provide useful and objective insights into the work- 
ings of Salvadoran politics and foreign relations. Other authors, 
such as Kenneth E. Sharpe, Terry Lynn Karl, and Jose Z. Garcia, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

have followed events in El Salvador closely and written informa- 
tive articles as well. Because of the country's high profile in United 
States foreign policy, most major newspapers provide adequate 
coverage of developments; these reports can be supplemented, 
however, by publications with a regional focus, such as the Latin 
American Weekly Report, Latin America Regional Reports: Mexico and Cen- 
tral America, and Latin American Monitor: Central America. 

With regard to the Contadora process and related diplomatic, 
political, and security developments in Central America, Susan 
Kaufman Purcell's * 'Demystifying Contadora" and "The Choice 
in Central America" provide accurate reporting of events while 
also attempting to explain the motivations of all actors involved. 
Bruce Michael Bagley's "Contadora: The Failure of Democracy" 
also provides a good overview of the process. (For further infor- 
mation and complete citations, see Bibliography.) 


Chapter 5. National Security 

Salvadoran Army recruit 

nineteenth century, incipient army and police forces emerged 
primarily for the purpose of protecting the expanding indigo plan- 
tations (fincas) and controlling the rural population. In return for 
these services, a large landowner would assume the role of quar- 
termaster or patron {patron) for his contingent of troops. Conse- 
quently, the interests of the military and paramilitary forces became 
closely identified with those of the economic elite. 

The army developed gradually, aided in the late nineteenth cen- 
tury by the French military and in the first half of the twentieth 
century by other European and Chilean military influences. Spain 
played an important role in establishing the National Police and 
the National Guard in the World War I period. 

After seizing power in 1931, the military continued to do the 
oligarchy's bidding, as exemplified by its brutal suppression of a 
communist-led peasant insurrection in 1932, an event that became 
known as la matanza (the massacre). For the next five decades, the 
military — in league with the large landholding interests — controlled 
El Salvador's political system through repression, rigged elections, 
and coups. The military allowed moderate social and economic re- 
forms, however, depending on which of its liberal or conservative 
factions was in power. During the 1931-70 period, in which seven 
of nine military coup attempts succeeded, eight of the nine presi- 
dents were army officers. The one civilian president in that period 
served only four months before being replaced by an officer. The 
military presidents ruled with the tacit consent of the oligarchy. 
Although this informal alliance favored maintenance of the gen- 
eral status quo, it provided the country with four decades of com- 
parative political stability and moderate social reforms. 

Reformist military officers tried unsuccessfully on several 
occasions — such as in 1960 and 1972 — to take control of the mili- 
tary and the government in order to end military corruption and 
repression, as well as to establish moderate reforms and democratic 
institutions. Hoping to avoid a Nicaraguan-style guerrilla war, 
reformist field-grade and junior officers (colonels, majors, captains, 
and lieutenants) deposed the repressive and corrupt regime of 
General Carlos Humberto Romero Mena on October 15, 1979, 
and established a civil-military government. Under United States 
prodding, the military eventually stepped aside and allowed a tran- 
sition to democratic rule. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Until the 1980s, the army's primary mission had been to de- 
fend the nation from external aggression. By 1981, after El Sal- 
vador signed a peace agreement with Honduras formally ending 
the 1969 war and the newly organized Farabundo Marti National 
Liberation Front launched a large-scale guerrilla offensiye, the 
army's mission focused primarily on counterinsurgency. The Sal- 
vadoran military had to reorient itself, changing from a conven- 
tional force that was organized, trained, and equipped to defend 
the country against a traditional foreign rival, Honduras, into a 
more aggressive military capable of waging a counterinsurgency 
war against elusive guerrillas supported by Cuba, Nicaragua, and 
other communist or radical states. For assistance in combating the 
insurgency, the military relied almost totally on the United States. 
Although massive United States military assistance had averted a 
victory by the rebels, the conflict remained stalemated in late 1988, 
and peace talks between the government and the rebels — numbering 
between 6,000 and 8,000 armed combatants — were still at an im- 
passe. Right-wing death squad groups were not nearly as active 
as in the early 1980s, but they continued to make their presence 
known in 1988 by killing several dozen individuals involved in 
human rights groups or left-wing activism. 

Although the Salvadoran military had a long record of interven- 
ing in governmental matters and being arbitrarily repressive, cor- 
rupt, and inefficient, by the late 1980s it had become a more 
pragmatic and professional entity that was more apolitical, more 
respectful of human rights, and much better equipped and trained 
for counterinsurgency. Whereas in the early 1980s the military often 
disregarded human rights considerations in its pursuit of the guer- 
rillas, counterinsurgency operations conducted in the late 1980s 
under the purview of the civilian government of President Jose 
Napoleon Duarte Fuentes were characterized by a general com- 
mitment to respect the human rights of Salvadoran citizens and 
conduct the war in a more humanitarian manner. For example, 
in compliance with Duarte 's directive regarding the use of aerial 
fire support, the Salvadoran Air Force was careful to avoid in- 
discriminate bombing. Whereas mass killings as a result of in- 
discriminate attacks by the military were frequent in the early 1980s, 
they were rarely reported in the late 1980s. Moreover, the mili- 
tary had made no attempt to stage a coup against the Duarte govern- 
ment as of the last quarter of 1988, despite its lack of enthusiasm 
for Duarte' s policies in dealing with the guerrillas. 

The political violence of the 1980s further debilitated El Sal- 
vador's historically weak criminal justice system. Politically moti- 
vated homicides, in particular, were rarely investigated or brought 


National Security 

to trial. Although the Duarte government tried to uphold the rule 
of law and reform the system, acts of vengeance and vigilantism 
had become rampant because of a lack of public confidence in the 
court system. 

Evolution of the Military's Role in Society 
and Government 

The Oligarchy's Private Army, 1824-1931 

The Salvadoran Army, like others in the region, developed from 
the city-based militia of the colonial period. Suppression of frequent 
Indian rebellions throughout the region and enforcement of tax, 
labor, and other obligations required of the Indians were principal 
functions of the militia and incipient armies during colonial times 
and carried over into the immediate postcolonial period. General 
Manuel Jose Arce, the first president of a regional federation called 
the United Provinces of Central America, which was established 
in 1823, created the first genuinely Salvadoran army in 1824 (see 
El Salvador and the United Provinces of Central America, ch. 1). 
He did this by consolidating a number of widely scattered cavalry 
units, which had fought against incursions by the army of the self- 
proclaimed Mexican emperor Agustin de Iturbide, and placing 
them under a central command. El Salvador's Armed Forces Day, 
called the Day of the Salvadoran Soldier, has been celebrated ever 
since on the date of the formal unification, May 7. 

In 1825 two French military advisers helped to modernize Arce's 
militia, which saw considerable action in the internecine conflict 
between liberal and conservative forces. After the federation col- 
lapsed in 1840, newly independent El Salvador inherited most of 
Arce's troops. The resulting Salvadoran Army was basically a light 
cavalry with independent squadrons of dragoons. Unlike the 
region's other armies, most of which resembled bandit gangs dur- 
ing most of the nineteenth century, the Salvadoran Army had de- 
veloped by the 1850s into a balanced and relatively disciplined force 
of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Officers were almost exclusively 

President Gerardo Barrios (1858-63) brought in another French 
military mission, which reorganized the militia into a European- 
style national army. Barrios also used Colombian advisers to im- 
prove the conduct, appearance, and discipline of the army and 
militia. In 1867 the French military mission assisted President Fran- 
cisco Duefias (1852-58 and 1863-67) in establishing an officer- 
training school that eventually became the Captain General Gerardo 
Barrios Military Academy (Escuela Militar Capitan General 
Gerardo Barrios). 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The military supported the coffee oligarchy that emerged in the 
1880s by functioning as an internal police force to suppress fre- 
quent peasant rebellions. In return, the landowners protected the 
military's interests and underwrote its expansion and profession- 
alization, thereby laying the foundations of what became the most 
powerful institution in El Salvador in the twentieth century. Presi- 
dent Carlos Erzeta (1890-94) founded the Military Hospital in San 
Salvador, opened the Noncommissioned Officers School (Escuela 
de Suboficiales), and employed a German military mission to 
reorganize and train artillery units. 

During the first half of the twentieth century, the military had 
a primarily internal security function and was involved in active 
hostilities on only one occasion, a brief war with Guatemala in 1906. 
A number of Chilean officers participated directly in El Salvador's 
campaign against Guatemala, forging a strong link between their 
country and El Salvador. The Chilean military attache, Carlos 
Ibanez de Campo, who later became president of Chile, personally 
led a legendary charge of the Salvadoran cavalry in one of the major 
battles, at Platanar. 

President Manuel Enrique Araujo (1911-13) implemented some 
army reforms that had a permanent effect on the security system. 
For example, he reduced its police functions. He also helped to 
professionalize the army by creating a general staff, an army educa- 
tional corps, and a relatively efficient army reserve system. In 1922 
El Salvador formed the Military Aviation Service (Servicio de 
Aviacion Militar — SAM) by acquiring five Italian bomber- 
reconnaissance aircraft. 

Beginning in 1929, the oligarchy relied increasingly on the mili- 
tary to suppress a series of major peasant rebellions in the coffee- 
growing areas of western El Salvador. President Arturo Araujo 
(March-December 1931) gave his vice president and minister of 
war, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, a free hand to 
suppress the revolts. At the same time, however, Araujo alienated 
the military by slashing its budget and refusing to revise its pay 

The Military in Power, 1931-84 

A group of young officers — angered by Araujo and concerned 
about the increasingly organized peasant activism — overthrew the 
democratically elected president in December 1931 and promptly 
turned over power to General Martinez. The cohesiveness of the 
regular conscript-based army was adversely affected by the coup, 
and army units therefore played little part in la matanza of January 
1932, which was attributed to the security forces (see The Security 


National Security 

Forces, this ch.). Although the scale of the massacre would not be 
repeated, the use of indiscriminate violence as exemplified by la 
matanza nonetheless became part of Salvadoran military legend and 
was invoked by right-wing extremists in the late 1970s and early 
1980s as a model for dealing with leftists. 

By mid- 1932 Martinez was in complete control of the army, the 
National Police (Policia Nacional — PN), and the National Guard 
(Guardia Nacional — GN). During his rule as absolute dictator 
(1932-44), the army remained subordinate to the more elite secur- 
ity services (the PN and GN). Under Martinez's system, the army 
answered to the minister of war, and the security services answered 
to the minister of government. After the 1944 coup, the minister 
of war assumed authority over all the security services, as well as 
the army. 

Beginning with the Martinez regime, an almost unbroken suc- 
cession of military governments ruled for five decades (see Repres- 
sion and Reform under Military Rule, ch. 1). On December 14, 
1948, a group of army majors belonging to the Military Youth 
(Juventud Militar) carried out what came to be known as the Revo- 
lution of 1948, also known as the "majors' coup." The young 
officers formed a corporate-style junta and forced all officers above 
the rank of lieutenant colonel to retire. After the coup, which was 
more concerned with establishing order than implementing reforms, 
the military established itself as a somewhat more independent force 
in politics by distancing itself from the oligarchy. The officers' move- 
ment also changed the army's own perception of its role in society 
by adopting new missions to uphold national law and safeguard 
the country's sovereignty. Thereafter, the military considered it- 
self no longer merely the oligarchy's private army but rather the 
guardian of the people and the constitution. As such, it saw itself 
playing a legitimate role in virtually all aspects of government. It 
failed totally, however, to legitimize this role, because it did not 
challenge the oligarchy, implement reforms, or turn the control 
of the government over to civilians. Instead, it merely changed the 
pattern of military control of the political process by reaching a 
new accommodation with the oligarchy; establishing its own party, 
the Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unification (Partido Revolu- 
cionario de Unificacion Democratica — PRUD); and ensuring that 
PRUD candidates took power, usually through fraudulent elec- 
tions. The military's continuance in power appeared to violate the 
1950 constitution, which stipulated that the armed forces were to 
be nonpolitical and obedient to the government in power. 

By the mid-1960s, another major shift had occurred in the Sal- 
vadoran military's perception of its own role in society and its view 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

of civilian involvement in the security system. Beginning in 1961, 
United States military and civilian law enforcement advisers had 
encouraged the Salvadoran military, not entirely successfully, to 
abandon the traditional concepts of military professionalism that 
had guided it since 1941 and to adopt some elements of a coun- 
terinsurgency doctrine. Whereas in the 1940s and 1950s the United 
States had taught Salvadoran Army officers to resist civilian at- 
tempts to interfere with military prerogatives, counterinsurgency 
doctrine in the 1960s encouraged the expansion of the traditional 
military role to include nonmilitary tasks, such as civic action 
projects, and the establishment of semiautonomous, politically 
oriented paramilitary organizations (see The Security Forces, this 
ch.). At the same time, a reformist Military Youth faction in the 
Salvadoran military led by Colonel Adolfo Arnoldo Majano Ramos 
also became increasingly critical of the old authoritarian model 
favored by the military traditionalists. 

The surge of patriotic fervor aroused by the 1969 war with Hon- 
duras focused a new public attitude of respect and esteem on the 
Salvadoran armed forces, especially the ground forces, which per- 
formed well during the brief confrontation (see The 1 969 War with 
Honduras, ch. 1). Salvadoran troops, supported by an overwhelm- 
ing superiority in artillery, penetrated up to twenty-nine kilometers 
into Honduran territory during the five-day conflict, in which 2,000 
to 4,000 soldiers and civilians were killed. The ill-equipped Sal- 
vadoran Air Force, however, was no match for the Honduran Air 
Force, Central America's best. Within months after the end of 
hostilities, therefore, the Salvadoran Air Force began to acquire 
new aircraft. El Salvador's seventeen-year-old navy, not having 
participated in the war with Honduras, benefited little from the 
postwar expansion and reequipment of the Salvadoran armed 

In the mid-1970s, as left-wing guerrilla and terrorist activities 
escalated, the military began to focus more on internal security than 
on political manipulation. Consequently, elements of the military 
adopted the doctrine of national security, emphasizing anticom- 
munism, state autonomy, and limits on the exercise of civil liber- 
ties through heavy reliance on the state of siege and other security 
decree powers. Civil-military relations changed accordingly. In an 
attempt to reassert its control and protect its own institutional in- 
tegrity from leftist subversion and rightist attempts to take power, 
the military tried to increase the distance between itself and civil 
society. The oligarchy encouraged the government's efforts to 
reinstate policies that characterized the traditional authoritarian 


National Security 

In 1979 a group of junior and field-grade military officers staged 
a successful coup and ousted the regime of General Romero. These 
officers quickly forced sixty senior officers to retire and tempora- 
rily exiled all of the generals and most of the colonels. Recogniz- 
ing the need for social, political, and economic reforms, they formed 
the left-of-center, civilian-military Revolutionary Governing Junta 
(Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno — JRG), which included two 
army officers: Colonel Jaime Abdul Gutierrez and Colonel Majano. 
The JRG then formed a largely civilian cabinet that included, as 
defense minister, Colonel Guillermo Garcia, a participant in the 
coup. The junior and field-grade officers who constituted the Mili- 
tary Youth also created the Permanent Council of the Armed Forces 
(Consejo Permanente de las Fuerzas Armadas — Copefa) to ensure 
that the proclaimed objectives of the reformist coup were not sub- 
verted and to serve as a policy consultative body for officers. The 
younger Copefa members distrusted the older commanders — 
particularly Garcia and his deputy, Colonel Nicolas Carranza — 
whom they viewed as corrupt, reactionary, and more interested 
in the political loyalty of key military officers than their military 
competence. Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that the real 
power lay in the military High Command (Alto Mando), not in the 
governing Civil-Military Directorate (Directorio Cfvico-Militar). 
Garcia and the High Command consolidated power by purging 
the young reformist officers from Copefa on December 18, 1979, 
and replacing them with old-guard loyalists. After another junta 
reorganization in December 1980, which resulted in Majano 's exile, 
Gutierrez retained sole command of the armed forces, and junta 
member Jose Napoleon Duarte Fuentes became provisional presi- 

Before the 1982 election for the Constituent Assembly (see Glos- 
sary), Defense Minister Garcia issued a public order requiring the 
military to defend the voting process. Thus, in an important break 
with the past, the military protected rather than manipulated an 
election. The High Command reportedly used its influence to pre- 
vent the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza 
Republicana Nacionalista — Arena) from excluding the Christian 
Democratic Party (Partido Democrata Cristiano — PDC) from the 
provisional government headed by Alvaro Magafia Borja, a polit- 
ical centrist, who succeeded Duarte as interim president. Neverthe- 
less, the prospect of civilian government disturbed many in the 
military, including senior army officers. Although Garcia forestalled 
a coup in early November 1982 by transferring or dismissing dis- 
sident senior army officers, criticism of him among the military 
hierarchy eventually turned into open rebellion. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Garcia' s most vocal military critic was Lieutenant Colonel 
Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, military commander of Cabanas Depart- 
ment. On January 6, 1983, a day after being ordered by Garcia 
to leave his command to serve as military attache in Uruguay, 
Ochoa began a six-day mutiny, placing his troops on alert. Ochoa 
accused Garcia of corruption and called for his resignation. Part 
of the conflict between Ochoa and Garcia stemmed from differ- 
ences over counterinsurgency strategy. Ochoa and his supporters 
advocated a more professional approach, emphasizing aggressive, 
small-unit actions and patrolling combined with political pacifica- 
tion (civic action projects). In response, the defense minister re- 
quired all senior officers to sign a document condemning Ochoa' s 
action as a violation of "the principles of discipline and obedience 
which men of the armed forces must observe at all times. ' ' Twenty- 
eight senior officers signed. Ochoa ended his rebellion after six days 
and accepted the president's offer of an assistant defense attache 
post in Washington. Under increasing pressure from within the 
officer corps, Garcia finally resigned on April 18, 1983, and was 
succeeded by General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the GN 
director general since October 1979. Ochoa eventually resigned 
from the army in June 1987, in part to protest what he viewed as 
interference in military affairs by the Duarte government and the 
United States but also to join Arena and serve as a deputy (diputado) 
in the Legislative Assembly. 

In a major military reorganization in November 1983, Vides, 
the new minister of defense and public security, reassigned many 
commanders and reorganized the army in an effort to enhance 
its professionalism; his action also rendered the army's leadership 
more politically conservative. Until the reorganization, twenty-six 
separate commands had reported directly to the defense minister. 
The appointment of six brigade commanders reduced the number 
of subordinate commands significantiy. One of Vides 's key appoint- 
ments was that of Colonel Adolfo Onecffero Blandon Mejia as army 
chief of staff. By the time the elected Constituent Assembly com- 
pleted the new Constitution in late 1983, a military code of con- 
duct had also been drafted (see Military Justice, this ch.). 

The inauguration of Duarte as president on June 1, 1984, ushered 
in a new era of elected civilian rule. On taking office, Duarte 
promoted Blandon to brigadier general and made him chief of staff 
of the Joint General Staff (Estado Mayor Conjunto — EMC). 

The Military under Democratic Rule, 1984-88 

In the 1984-88 period, the military largely adhered to its new 
constitutional obligations to remain apolitical and obedient to 


Army personnel in the field 
Courtesy United States Department of Defense 

civilian rule (see Mission and Organization, this ch.). It made no 
effort to influence the outcome of the elections that brought Duarte 
and the Legislative Assembly into office. The elected leadership 
determined the country's domestic and foreign policy, generally 
without discernible interference by the military. President Duarte 
normally made the basic decisions on how to deal with the guerril- 
las, and he set the rules of engagement, which the military obeyed. 
Military leaders spurned attempts by antidemocratic right-wing 
extremists to incite coups, and by late 1988 no military coup at- 
tempt had been made. Nevertheless, there were occasions when 
civil-military relations were seriously strained. For example, in Oc- 
tober 1985 a group of army officers accused Duarte of endanger- 
ing the national security by allowing 126 rebels to go free in 
exchange for the release of his kidnapped daughter. Although the 
officers asked the High Command to consider replacing the presi- 
dent, a day-long debate in that body defused the dissent. 

The military reportedly also still set its own rules of conduct much 
of the time, despite Duarte 's efforts to strengthen civilian control. 
For example, the military resisted civilian efforts to force it to make 
a public accounting of the involvement of some officers in a 
multimillion-dollar kidnapping ring, a corrupt arms deal, and the 
murder of several United States citizens. In addition, some army 
officers with records of human rights abuses continued to be 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

promoted. Moreover, with the exceptions of Vides and Blandon, 
who became identified with Duarte and his administration, the mili- 
tary kept its distance from the PDC government and cultivated 
its own ties with political parties, the Roman Catholic Church, and 
business and labor groups. 

Although the armed forces remained a powerful institution, exert- 
ing a strong, behind-the-scenes influence on national security affairs 
during the Duarte administration, usually through the High Com- 
mand, the military's direct political involvement decreased. Ob- 
servers cited three reasons why a consensus toward a professional, 
apolitical military institution gradually developed. First and fore- 
most, the military understood that its submission to civilian author- 
ity was essential for obtaining United States support to carry out 
its primary national security mission, namely counterinsurgency. 
Second, a more apolitical stance by the military was necessary if 
the country wished to end its international isolation and improve 
economic, diplomatic, and perhaps even military cooperation with 
West European and Latin American democracies. And third, most 
military leaders understood that the political appeal of the insur- 
gency could best be neutralized by setting up representative civilian 
institutions and the infrastructure of a democratic society, even 
though these were historically alien to the country. Thus, the mili- 
tary's role in Salvadoran political life changed dramatically dur- 
ing the Duarte administration. The military publicly supported the 
democratic process and remained neutral in it; military leaders 
stated repeatedly that civilian officials were responsible for deter- 
mining El Salvador's political, economic, social, and foreign poli- 

In 1987 the Duarte administration's relations with the military 
were strained, however, by the government's long-range plans to 
build up a police force independent of the army, by the release of 
guerrilla prisoners, and by a brief unilateral cease-fire declared by 
the president in order to comply with the Central American Peace 
Agreement that Duarte signed on behalf of El Salvador on Au- 
gust 7, 1987 (see The Crisis in Central America, ch. 4). Although 
the High Command approved peace talks with the guerrillas in 
September 1987, the military's public support for the dialogue 
seemed less than enthusiastic. 

Two events in late November 1987 further strained civil-military 
relations. One was the temporary return from exile of two leaders 
of the political front of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation 
Front (Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional — FMLN), 
the Revolutionary Democratic Front (Frente Democratico Revolu- 
cionario — FDR). Another was Duarte 's release of new evidence 


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purportedly linking Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta, the Arena 
leader, with the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero 
y Galdamez. In response to these two events, Salvadoran right- 
wing political leaders, including D'Aubuisson and Ochoa, began 
appealing for "patriotic action" by their traditional ally, the army. 
Ochoa stressed the duty of the military commanders in the field 
to defend El Salvador from both the "terrorists" and the Chris- 
tian democratic government. These rightist leaders also attempted 
to appeal to the nationalism of army officers who resented the 
United States embassy's influence over their actions. One target 
of the rightists was Colonel Carlos Reynaldo Lopez Nuila, a senior 
army officer and the PN director general. Lopez Nuila had strongly 
supported Duarte, had tried to loosen the army's control over police 
forces in San Salvador, and had actively investigated human rights 
abuses and other crimes by some senior army officers. 

In mid- 1988 the military, like the government, appeared to be 
in a transitional period. Reportedly disenchanted with the Chris- 
tian democratic government over its handling of the economy and 
its efforts at dialogue with the guerrillas, and uneasy over the poten- 
tial investigation of military officers accused of crimes, the mili- 
tary appeared receptive to the assumption of power by the right 
and by Arena. The military was particularly worried that after the 
1989 presidential election the country would still have a weak civilian 
government. By mid- 1988 Lieutenant Colonel Rene Emilio Ponce 
Torres, commander of the army's First Infantry Brigade in eastern 
San Miguel Department, had become publicly critical of civilians, 
saying bureaucratic infighting and the political parties' inability 
to resolve their differences were weakening the war effort. Ponce's 
renewed efforts to win over citizens in zones of conflict worried 
some in the civilian government, who felt that the powerful, more 
cohesive military was usurping their functions. 

The High Command held a series of meetings to define its posi- 
tion and also met with politicians to discuss the electoral dispute 
that delayed the convening of the Legislative Assembly elected in 
March 1988. Defense Minister Vides publicly dismissed the pos- 
sibility that a coup would result from the political crisis that had 
developed by June 1988, when Duarte left the country to receive 
medical treatment for what was reported to be terminal cancer. 
Meanwhile, members of the military academy's class of 1966 (the 
so-called tandona, or big class), led by Colonel Ponce, were begin- 
ning to move into positions of power (see Officer Corps Dynam- 
ics, this ch.). By mid-1988, after five years on the job, General 
Vides and General Blandon appeared to be losing influence as 
younger, more aggressive officers, some of whose attitudes toward 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

the democratic process were unclear, anticipated the generals' ap- 
proaching retirement. 

The Armed Forces 
Mission and Organization 

Under Articles 211 and 212 of the 1983 Constitution, the army's 
missions and those of the armed forces in general are to defend 
the national territory and sovereignty; to maintain the public peace, 
tranquillity, and security; and to support democracy. Article 212 
describes the armed forces more specifically as a fundamental 
institution for national security, of a permanent character, es- 
sentially apolitical, obedient to established civilian authority, and 
nondeliberative. It also charges the military with enforcing the 
no-reelection provision for the country's president, guaranteeing 
freedom of suffrage, ensuring respect for human rights, and col- 
laborating with the agencies of the executive branch in promoting 
national development. In effect, the 1983 Constitution sought to 
change dramatically the political role of the military. Whereas mili- 
tary officers routinely served as president of the republic under the 
old constitutions, the 1983 Constitution does not permit any active- 
duty military officer to be president. Military personnel must resign 
from the service three years before the next presidential inaugura- 
tion date in order to be eligible to run for that office. 

Both the military organic law and Article 157 of the Constitution 
name the president as commander in chief of the armed forces, 
consisting of the army, air force, navy, and active reserve (see 
fig. 9). Article 168 empowers the president to organize and main- 
tain the armed forces and confer military ranks in accordance with 
the law. The minister of defense and public security is in the chain 
of command and performs the president's command functions on 
a day-to-day basis. A deputy minister of defense and public secur- 
ity fulfills the purely administrative role assigned to the Ministry 
of Defense and Public Security. The EMC chief is the senior serv- 
ing officer and also army commander and has operational control 
over the navy and air force chiefs. The vice minister of defense and 
public security oversees the Public Security Forces Joint Staff of the 
three security forces: the GN, PN, and the Treasury Police (Policfa 
de Hacienda — PH), which together included some 12,600 person- 
nel among their ranks in 1988. The regular armed forces (army, 
air force, and navy) totaled about 47,000 active members in 1988. 

Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda stated in a published interview 
in 1987 that the Salvadoran armed forces had two national-level 


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intelligence organizations: the National Directorate of Intelligence 
(Direccion Nacional de Inteligencia — DNI) under the Ministry of 
Defense and Public Security; and the EMC's C-2, which Colonel 
Zepeda headed. Although the DNI was charged with providing 
strategic, political, and national intelligence, the demands of the 
war and a lack of training compelled it to develop mainly military 
operational intelligence at the strategic and tactical levels, duplicat- 
ing the C-2's principal mission. The C-2 also used intelligence 
reports from agencies at the brigade and military unit levels. 

Defense Budget 

El Salvador's defense budgets traditionally were relatively 
modest, and the percentage of the national income devoted to the 
armed forces generally was conservative. Military expenditures in 
the post-World War II period to 1970 ranged from 9 to 1 1 percent 
of the national budget. The demands of counterinsurgency resulted, 
however, in large increases in the country's defense spending in 
the 1980s. The defense budget, which included the "public secur- 
ity sector," increased substantially from fiscal year (FY — see Glos- 
sary) 1982, when it totalled US$139 million, to FY 1988, when 
it reached US$204 million (see Foreign Military Influence and 
Assistance, this ch.). In 1986 army expenditures accounted for 71 
percent of the total defense budget; air force, 23 percent; and navy, 
4 percent. The 1986 defense budget constituted 4.7 percent of the 
gross national product (GNP — see Glossary). By the late 1980s, 
defense expenditures accounted for 25 percent of the national 

Military Service 

Under Article 215 of the Constitution, military service for a mini- 
mum of two years is obligatory for all able-bodied male citizens 
between the ages of eighteen and thirty, although in practice youth 
from wealthy families avoided military service. In 1988 El Salvador 
had a manpower pool of 807,000 males fit for military service, and 
approximately 65,000 Salvadoran males reached military age (eigh- 
teen) annually. Prior to the guerrilla conflict and its attendant in- 
crease in military personnel, conscription was resorted to only 
rarely, and only one year of service was required. The services drew 
mainly young rural men whose lack of employment prospects made 
even low-paying, high-risk military service attractive. After 1979, 
however, the armed forces relied heavily on the draft. Conscripts 
(males only) were required initially to serve eighteen months at 
the age of eighteen or nineteen, but the period was soon increased 
to twenty-four months. On completion of their service, conscripts 


El Salvador: A Country Study 






(EMC) 4 




(GN) 3 





PN .. 



PH .. 



GN .. 





Figure 9. Armed Forces Chain of Command, 1988 

reverted to ''active reserve" status until the age of thirty, or they 
could choose to remain for a longer period of time at a higher salary. 
The army, however, limited reenlistment to 20 percent because 
a draftee was paid only US$80 per month, as compared with 
US$300 a month for a soldier who had completed two two-year 
tours. From the ages of thirty to sixty, reservists were assigned to 
the second-line Territorial Service, a part-time, volunteer security 
force that mainly provided reserve manpower for the army. 

Recruitment to the regular armed forces was carried out nation- 
ally but was decentralized down to the township level. Conscript 
classes were called up biannually, and each individual reported to 
the military unit nearest his home. Local boards — consisting of 
officers, civilian officials, and medical personnel — examined pro- 
spective draftees and ruled on their qualifications and on requests 


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for exemption or deferment. Each township received a quota of 
the vacancies in the regular service and filled them first with volun- 
teers. After initial examinations, the local boards submitted a list 
of qualified volunteers to the departmental commander. Selections 
were made by lottery, in accordance with the choice of service in- 
dicated. Accepted candidates then reported to their new stations 
in the departmental regiment. 

The army also frequently resorted to the impressment of young 
men into service, particularly in urban areas, in order to fulfill its 
manpower quotas. In the late 1980s, according to the New York 
Times, the armed forces were forcibly enlisting 12,000 youths a year. 
Those most affected by this press-gang system were usually from 
poor and rural families; often they were as young as fourteen. The 
military almost never forcibly recruited youths in wealthy neigh- 
borhoods. If recruited, they could generally buy their way out of 
the service with help from their families. 

Historically, most women in the Salvadoran military served as 
nurses or were relegated to secretarial or domestic duties, such as 
cooking. In 1985 most of the 2,000 military nurses worked at the 
Military Hospital in San Salvador; few were assigned to field duty. 
At that time, the armed forces had six female officers, all of whom 
had received their commissions because of their foreign training. 
The highest ranking nurse was a captain, but none held any posi- 
tion in a chain of command. 

In the early 1980s, thanks mainly to innovative commanders in 
the First Infantry Brigade in eastern El Salvador, the Ministry of 
Defense and Public Security allowed young women volunteers to 
begin basic combat training courses in San Miguel and Morazan 
departments. The initial seventy women recruits were organized 
into two all- women combat platoons. Most of the women recruits 
reportedly had either been displaced by the war or had had rela- 
tives kidnapped or murdered by the guerrillas. Although their basic 
training reportedly was rigorous and similar to that given male 
recruits, the women were not observed to be subjected to the same 
physical abuse. Those who successfully completed combat train- 
ing qualified for the same pay as male privates, c450 (for value 
of the colon — see Glossary) a month, or about US$1 12. As of 1985, 
members of the two women's platoons reportedly were being in- 
tegrated as replacements in previously all-male units. 

Until the 1920s, officers were selected from the country's promi- 
nent families and constituted an elite caste. In time, the selection 
process became increasingly egalitarian, however, and by 1970 the 
officer corps was composed mostly of mestizos from farm commu- 
nities. The officers came from segments of the population educated 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

enough to qualify for the demanding officer training. All officers 
were career regulars, except for a small number of professional 
specialists, such as doctors. 

In comparison with equivalent civilian standards, the conditions 
under which military personnel served were generally quite good. 
Officers, but not enlisted personnel, had separate family accom- 
modations. Married noncommissioned officers (NCOs) received 
extra family allowances that were sufficient to enable them to pro- 
cure local housing. Quarters, food, and pay were generally con- 
siderably better than the average campesino could find outside the 
service. Other benefits and advantages included medical care, 
accrued leave, retirement pay, and survivor benefits, although the 
latter were not always guaranteed. Special allowances were also 
available based on family size and the location of one's duty sta- 
tion; extra pay also was authorized for specialists and airborne and 
flight personnel. Retirement for disability, age, or length of ser- 
vice was either statutory or granted on request. Liberal leave poli- 
cies allowed all ranks to accrue thirty days a year; there also were 
special provisions for emergency situations. 

Ranks, Uniforms, and Insignia 

The rank structure of the armed forces followed traditional lines 
and conformed to the pattern of the United States services, with 
minor variations reflecting the disparity in force levels. Army and 
air force ranks were identical, and the navy used conventional naval 
designations, although naval personnel generally were addressed 
by their equivalent army ranks. The only general officer rank was 
equivalent to a United States brigadier general. 

Insignia of rank conformed to the designs adopted in 1968 by 
the Central American Defense Council (Consejo de Defensa 
Centroamericano — Condeca). Army and air force officer insignia 
were worn on shoulder straps and consisted of silver-colored stars 
for company-grade officers (second lieutenant, lieutenant, and cap- 
tain), gold-colored stars for field-grade officers (major, lieutenant 
colonel, and colonel), and a laurel leaf for brigadier general. Naval 
officers displayed gold-colored metallic braid insignia of rank at 
the cuff or on shoulderboards, depending on the type of uniform 
worn. NCOs wore chevrons of gold braid or colored cloth. The 
grades of all enlisted personnel were indicated by cloth chevrons 
(gold-colored for army and air force and black for navy), worn on 
either the uniform coat or the shirt sleeves (see fig. 10; fig. 11). 

Both army and air force wore dark-blue dress uniforms, whereas 
the navy wore traditional navy blue garb but donned standard 
whites for the hot-weather months. The army's service uniform 


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consisted of a khaki shirt and beige trousers, with an overseas-type 
garrison cap. The air force's service uniform differed from the 
army's only in its light-blue color, and the navy used a khaki ser- 
vice uniform. Army and air force officers wore service uniforms 
in their respective colors. The army's basic garrison uniform con- 
sisted of olive-green shirt, trousers, and cap and a belt, socks, and 
shoes, all in black. The standard uniform became the combat uni- 
form with the addition of short leggings, combat boots, a helmet, 
and field equipment. The air force's garrison uniform again differed 
from that of the army only in its blue color. Dress and service uni- 
forms for female personnel were patterned after those for male per- 
sonnel, but with skirts instead of trousers. 


The Army 

By far the dominant service in size and importance, the Salva- 
doran Army in 1988 had a total strength of 43,000 members, in- 
cluding conscripts. For territorial control, it divided the country 
into six military zones and fourteen subordinate military regions. 
The principal combat units consisted of twenty-two medium and 
fourteen light Antiterrorist Infantry Battalions (Batallones de 
Infanteria Antiterrorista — BIATs) organized into six infantry 
brigades, nine cadre infantry regiments (up to forty battalions), 
one mechanized cavalry regiment (two battalions), one artillery 
brigade (three battalions), one engineer battalion, six independent 
immediate-reaction counterinsurgency battalions (1,100 to 1,400 
men), and seven detachments (destacamentos). The army also had 
one paratrooper battalion and one antiaircraft artillery battalion 
that were under air force control. The usual service units — such 
as medical, military police, and ordnance — supported the combat 
forces. Each brigade also had a long-range reconnaissance patrol 
for small-unit reconnaissance and combat patrolling. Army equip- 
ment in the late 1980s included light tanks, armored personnel 
carriers, howitzers, mortars, and recoilless rifles (see table 7, 

Military Detachment Number Four (Destacamento Militar 
Numero Cuatro-DM4), which was responsible for security in 
Morazan Department, typified the army's command organization. 
In 1987 DM4 consisted of four battalions, each of which was or- 
ganized into four companies. A company had four platoons — 
actually called sections {secciones) — of about thirty-four members 
each. Its zone of responsibility was divided among its four platoons, 
each of which contained two patrols (patrullas). The patrols operated 


El Salvador: A Country Study 


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El Salvador: A Country Study 

independently, although two or more of the companies often coop- 
erated in an operation. 

The Air Force 

In 1988 the Salvadoran Air Force had over 2,000 personnel, in- 
cluding an air defense unit, a security group, and some conscripts. 
The antiaircraft artillery battalion was equipped with twenty-four 
Yugoslav-made M-55 20mm guns and four self-propelled guns and 
was staffed with army personnel. From the mid-1970s to the late 
1980s, the air force had acquired aircraft from Israel (French-made), 
France, Brazil, and the United States. Although the air force 
suffered a major setback on January 27, 1982, when guerrillas at- 
tacked Ilopango Air Base outside San Salvador and destroyed 75 
percent of the air force's inventory, the United States delivered 
replacement aircraft within weeks. With additional United States 
assistance, the air force built up quickly in 1985 and by late 1986 
had a large helicopter force and a variety of other aircraft (see table 
8, Appendix). Attrition continued to be high in the late 1980s, with 
a number of helicopters and other aircraft downed by guerrilla forces 
or mechanical failure. 

In the late 1980s, the Salvadoran Air Force was organized into 
the Military Aviation School (Escuela de Aviacion Militar — EAM) 
and five squadrons: the Hunter Squadron (Escuadrilla de Caza), 
based in San Miguel; the Hunter Bomber Squadron (Escuadrilla 
de Caza Bombardeo), based at Ilopango Air Base; the Attack Squa- 
dron (Escuadrilla de Ataque) and the Transport Squadron 
(Escuadrilla de Transporte), also based at Ilopango; and the growing 
Helicopter Squadron (Escuadrilla de Helicoptero), with aircraft 
based at both Ilopango and San Miguel. 

The Navy 

In 1988 the Salvadoran Navy, with at least 1,300 members, 
included the 600-man Marine Infantry Battalion (Batallon de 
Infanteria de Marina — BIM), a 330-man commando unit, and 
some conscripts. The principal naval base was located at La Union. 
A naval school was located at Army Headquarters in San Salvador. 
In the late 1980s, the navy had acquired thirty patrol craft (see 
table 9, Appendix). 

Revived in 1952, after a lapse of more than forty years without 
any naval vessels, the new navy assumed the functions of the es- 
tablished coast guard and expanded them to include coastal patrol 
and fishery protection. The navy also absorbed patrol craft from 
the coast guard; these craft, principally British vessels, were decom- 
missioned by 1981 and replaced by United States-built boats. 


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The Naval Commandos force was established in August 1982 
as a sixty-man unit intended to improve response to guerrilla oper- 
ations in coastal areas. By mid- 1985 the force numbered 330 men, 
among them 12 frogmen, 90 base security troops, and 110 men 
who regularly handled the weapons aboard their high-speed patrol 
boats. The Naval Commandos prowled mangroves, coconut forests, 
and beaches in eight- to fifteen-man teams, ambushing guerrilla 
columns and raiding rebel encampments. 

Civic Action 

The involvement of the armed forces in civic action projects began 
in the mid-1960s. A hierarchy of government officials at the highest 
levels supervised the national civic action program. The ranking 
official, the director of civic action, was attached to the Ministry 
of Defense and Public Security, directly under the minister. A com- 
mittee composed of the ministers of defense and public security, 
agriculture and livestock, public health and social services, educa- 
tion, and public works served as an advisory group for the direc- 
tor. Regional committees supervised the various projects assigned 
to their localities. These national and regional committees prepared 
programs annually, with the national group deciding on the allo- 
cation of tasks, resources, and priorities. The army's engineer bat- 
talion generally supervised construction and public works projects. 
Other ministries represented on the national committee monitored 
literacy, health, and welfare activities. 

Civic action programs had a significant impact on the economy 
and society. The army's civic action program was largely respon- 
sible for the country's good road system (see Transportation, ch. 3). 
Members of the military not only maintained and repaired roads 
but also built new ones, often in difficult terrain. Although high- 
way maintenance was one of their primary activities, the army en- 
gineers also assisted in public works projects ranging from bridges 
to earthworks, airfields, and sewers. A particularly important facet 
of the civic action program was the literacy campaign. The army 
operated literacy centers for the public in rural communities 
throughout the country, as well as for recruits at military posts. 
The army's public health program, which included periodic im- 
munization campaigns conducted nationwide, was also a great 
benefit to the public. The Army Medical Service maintained a num- 
ber of clinics that served the local population as well as military 
personnel in the major barracks (cuarteles), and the service also oper- 
ated mobile health centers in isolated areas. Beginning in 1983, 
the army combined civic action projects with its "pacification" cam- 
paigns (see Left- Wing Extremism, this ch.). 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

The navy and air force gradually began increasing their partici- 
pation in civic action in 1965, although their contribution was rela- 
tively small. The navy participated in search-and-rescue missions, 
particularly in the protection of fishing craft off the southern coast. 
The air force used its Cessna liaison aircraft extensively in civic 
action missions, especially in remote or isolated areas, where it 
transported medical teams to clinics and provided emergency 

Education, Training, and Rules of Conduct 
Military Schools 

Aspiring officers for all three services completed the four-year 
course of the Captain General Gerardo Barrios Military Academy, 
graduating with a bachelor's degree and being commissioned with 
the rank of second lieutenant. Located a few miles west of the cap- 
ital, the academy was the primary source of commissioned officers 
in the army, navy, and air force. In 1985 a shortage of officers 
forced the academy to begin operating on an emergency status that 
required the curriculum to be reduced to three years. 

Enrollment was limited to unmarried males between the ages 
of seventeen and twenty-one who had graduated from high school 
and passed competitive entrance examinations. Students spent only 
their first year training at the academy. During the rest of the time, 
they were attached to various battalions throughout the country. 

Most cadets came from lower-middle-class families; during the 
1980s, many came from areas of heavy guerrilla activity. Fewer 
than 10 percent of the enrolled cadets were sons of military officers. 
The academy also trained cadets from other Central American 
countries. In the late 1980s, it usually had a student body of about 
225 cadets, with about 100 to 125 candidates entering each year. 
Nevertheless, a tradition of strict, even brutal, discipline ensured 
a first-year drop-out rate of 35 to 40 percent, and only 10 to 20 
percent of each class graduated. Under this system, loyalty to class- 
mates was particularly strong. 

Academy graduates who elected to serve in the navy or air force 
received additional specialized training before being transferred to 
those services. For example, an officer who enlisted in the Salva- 
doran Air Force underwent flight training at the Military Avia- 
tion School (Escuela de Aviacion Militar) or specialist training at 
the Specialists' School (Escuela de Especializacion). Most officer 
personnel also pursued some additional training abroad, especially 
in the United States. 

By law Salvadoran Army officers had to attend their own ser- 
vice schools, including the Command and General Staff School 


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(Escuela de Mando y Estado Mayor General). This war college 
provided courses in advanced military science for officers of the 
rank of lieutenant colonel and above and aspiring staff officers. 
Regular NCOs were trained at the Noncommissioned Officers 
School and at the Arms and Services School (Escuela de Armas 
y Servicios — EAS). The EAS provided specialist training for both 
officers and other ranks, as well as an advanced six-month course 
for field-grade officers. Basic and advanced officer training were 
offered at the Armed Forces Military Training Center (Centro de 
Entrenamiento Militar de las Fuerzas Armadas — CEMFA), which 
was established in La Union in 1984. The military also had a human 
rights training program for officers and enlisted personnel. Most 
officers pursued additional postgraduate studies abroad. In the 
1980s, many Salvadoran armed forces personnel received train- 
ing in other Latin American countries, particularly Argentina and 
Chile; at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia; 
and in Taiwan. In 1983 officers and cadets also began receiving 
scholarships from Britain, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the Federal 
Republic of Germany (West Germany). 

Officer Corps Dynamics 

In the Salvadoran officer corps, personal ties and political orien- 
tation have traditionally been more important than military com- 
petence. The 1948 revolution institutionalized a caste-like "old-boy 
network" within the army by bringing to power a tanda, or mili- 
tary academy graduating class, for the first time. Henceforth, the 
members of each tanda traditionally were bound to lifelong loyalty 
to one another. A tanda formed a tight clique, with its members 
taking their first commands in the expectation that they would one 
day be running the country. A tanda was important throughout an 
officer's career, which by law could last thirty years. Tanda loyalty 
counted more than political or personal differences. The impor- 
tance of a tanda increased with seniority, as its leaders moved up 
into positions of power and wealth. Members of one tanda often 
formed alliances with those of another, although, as Richard L. 
Millett has observed, not with the class one year ahead that had 
mistreated them during their first year, nor with the class one year 
behind that they had themselves harassed. 

The 1963 tanda of D'Aubuisson, a former army and GN intelli- 
gence officer and an ultraconservative politician, dominated the 
army in the early 1980s. His tanda held eleven of the top twenty 
field commands, controlling four of the country's six infantry 
brigades, four of its seven regional garrisons, the artillery brigade, 
and the mechanized cavalry battalion. D'Aubuisson carefully 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

cultivated this network. Merely having classmates in so many key 
positions did not mean, however, that he had their automatic sup- 
port. Many of his classmates were opposed to his extreme political 
viewpoint. The importance of D'Aubuisson's tanda connections lay 
in the entree they gave him into the cuarteles (barracks), where he 
also had the support of a number of junior officers. 

Some observers believed that the tanda system was declining in 
importance by the mid-1980s because the much larger class sizes 
and the smaller amount of time that classmates were together were 
not conducive to developing strong bonds. The emergence in the 
late 1980s of the forty-six member tandona of 1966 appeared to con- 
tradict that view, however. The so-called reformist members of the 
tandona who played significant roles in the political system in the 
late 1970s and early 1980s included Defense Minister Garcia, his 
deputy Carranza, and the PN head, Colonel Lopez Nuila. These 
officers advocated a hard line against the opposition. 

The promotion, transfer, or retirement of at least thirty senior 
officers in early July 1988 marked the start of the ascension of the 
tandona to command posts. As a result of the changes — in which 
younger, more conservative officers replaced those more closely 
identified with President Duarte — the tandona held five of the six 
prestigious infantry brigade commands; controlled five of the seven 
military detachments, the three security forces, and the intelligence, 
operations, and personnel posts in the High Command; and oc- 
cupied numerous other key slots. The leading member of the tan- 
dona, Colonel Ponce, was promoted to the position of chief of the 
Joint General Staff in November 1988 and thus assumed the coun- 
terinsurgency command. Although most of the top hierarchy was 
expected to be replaced by March 1989, tandona members were mov- 
ing into the top posts slowly because the traditional seniority rule 
did not allow them to displace officers who had graduated before 
them. The sweeping command changes, however, angered many 
younger officers, who viewed the colonels' unusual consolidation 
of control as a power grab that blocked others' chances for promo- 
tion. Officers above and below the tandona bitterly resented it be- 
cause of its size and influence. 

Military Justice 

Military justice traditionally adhered to a standard Western pat- 
tern, providing for special and general courts martial. Unit or post 
commanders had considerable leeway to dispense punishment 
without resorting to formal trial; their disciplinary powers served 
the functions of a summary court. The average Salvadoran sol- 
dier traditionally respected authority and accepted discipline as a 


Salvadoran Army officer and soldier 
Courtesy United States Department of Defense 

normal condition of military life. Although the officer corps had 
a history of staging coups against unpopular military leaders, mili- 
tary commanders rarely mutinied. Ochoa's rebellion in 1983 was 
a glaring exception (see The Military in Power, 1931-84, this ch.). 
Discipline was not usually a major problem in the armed forces, 
and most offenses and infractions were dealt with by administra- 
tive penalties. 

The armed forces code of military justice, signed by Defense 
Minister Vides on May 13, 1983, was loosely enforced. It pertained 
only to military offenses and stressed the military's constitutional 
obligations, the proper treatment of civilians, respect for human 
rights, and the use of only the minimum force necessary to achieve 
an objective. A special section of the 1983 code of conduct was de- 
voted to procedures for handling members of the armed forces 
arrested for criminal activities or human rights violations. Com- 
manders of such personnel were required to notify the Joint General 
Staff immediately and to conduct a thorough investigation. Results 
of the investigation were then to be furnished to the general staff 
and the Ministry of Defense and Public Security. During the in- 
vestigation, commanders were authorized to place the suspected 
service member under arrest. If sufficient proof of guilt was avail- 
able, the suspect was to be turned over to the proper judicial 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Article 216 of the Constitution establishes military jurisdiction 
for special tribunals and proceedings {procedimientos) to try purely 
military felonies {delitos) and misdemeanors (faltas). The verdicts 
of these courts martial may be appealed in the ultimate instance 
to the general commander of the armed forces or to the respective 
chief of field operations. Civilian felonies {delitos comunes) commit- 
ted by military personnel must be prosecuted in the civil judicial 
system, but intimidation and lack of cooperation have rendered 
military personnel essentially immune from prosecution in the civil 
courts. This reflected the generally accepted military ethos according 
to which one never subjected a fellow officer to punishment by 
civilians. Some army officers considered Lopez Nuila's steps to in- 
vestigate human rights abuses and other crimes by some senior army 
officers to have violated this unwritten code, the intent of which 
was to prevent any real or perceived loss of military power and 

In 1986 the directors of each of the three security forces created 
internal investigatory units responsible for inquiring into all accu- 
sations made against members of those forces. If the investigators 
found "probable cause" that a member of the military had com- 
mitted a crime, the member was to be released from the force and 
turned over to the proper civilian judicial authorities for follow- 
up. If it was found that a crime had not been committed but that 
authority had been abused, the member was to be fined, disciplined, 
or released from the service. During the period from June 1985 
to May 1986, over 200 members of the public security forces were 
remanded to the civilian courts for prosecution. Because of defi- 
ciencies in the Salvadoran judicial system's record-keeping, it was 
not known how many of those were convicted. Nevertheless, in 
1987 the United States embassy in San Salvador conducted a study 
on the disposition of 905 cases of military and public security forces 
members who had been dismissed from the armed forces for mis- 
conduct and abuse of authority and whose cases had been remanded 
to the civilian courts for adjudication. The investigation found that 
few were convicted, a situation largely attributable to the inade- 
quacies of the judicial system, although military intimidation was 
also presumed to be a strong factor. 

Resistance to investigation was particularly strong within the 
officer corps, where tanda ties traditionally kept officers from being 
arrested or prosecuted for alleged crimes. For example, when Lieu- 
tenant Colonel Roberto Mauricio Staben Perla, a leading tandona 
member, was detained in 1987 under suspicion of being part of 
a kidnapping ring involving several military officers, his classmates 
demanded that Duarte permit him to return to duty. Consequendy, 


National Security 

Staben was released without ever having to submit to a formal 
investigation of the charges made against him by two witnesses, 
and he resumed his post as commander of the Arce Battalion. By 
1987 the government was known to have prosecuted only two cases 
involving abuses against Salvadoran citizens by members of the 
armed forces; no member of the regular officer corps had been con- 
victed of involvement in the many murders of civilians since 1979. 

Foreign Military Influence and Assistance 

From 1901 until 1957, four different Chilean military missions 
directed El Salvador's military training and operations on an almost 
continuous basis. In 1941 the Chileans founded the first war col- 
lege, called the Command and General Staff School, and they 
directed its activities until 1957, when the Salvadorans took over 
its administration. 

Although Germany was El Salvador's first European supplier 
of military equipment in the 1920s, France and Denmark also 
provided weaponry in the 1920s and 1930s. Small groups of Italian 
specialists trained Salvadoran military personnel in the handling 
of military equipment acquired from Italy during the 1930s. 

United States military assistance to El Salvador began in the 
1930s with the provision of some aircraft and ground forces equip- 
ment. In the closing stages of World War II, the United States 
transferred a few additional aircraft to El Salvador. After signing 
the Inter- American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty) 
in 1947, El Salvador began benefiting from assistance provided by 
a United States air mission as well as from increased transfers of 
aircraft. The Salvadoran Air Force became equipped almost ex- 
clusively with United States aircraft. 

Although the United States remained primarily responsible for 
El Salvador's foreign training assistance from 1957 through 1988, 
the aid program totaled less than US$17 million in equipment and 
training between 1950 and 1979. The US$7.4 million in Military 
Assistance Program (MAP) funds provided during that period was 
far less than that received by any other Central American country 
except Costa Rica. After the 1961 coup, the United States expanded 
its military mission, which by 1970 numbered sixteen personnel. 
In March 1977, after the United States administration of Presi- 
dent Jimmy Carter criticized El Salvador for human rights viola- 
tions, the country rejected further United States military aid. 

El Salvador then turned to countries other than the United States 
for military materiel. Salvadoran land and air forces purchased 
modern counterinsurgency equipment primarily from Brazil, Israel, 
and France. In addition to acquiring numerous aircraft, El Salvador 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

also completely reequipped its infantry with G3 rifles from West 
Germany, some of which were still in use in the late 1980s, and 
purchased quantities of West German wheeled armored person- 
nel carriers (APCs). El Salvador also obtained some artillery pieces 
from Yugoslavia during the 1970s. 

After reformist military officers overthrew the Romero regime 
in October 1979, the Carter administration, eager to improve con- 
tacts with the military, allocated to El Salvador a small amount 
of training funds and US$5.7 million in "nonlethal" foreign mili- 
tary sales (FMS) in FY 1980. Renewed United States military as- 
sistance began in November 1979 with the arrival of a six-man Mo- 
bile Training Team (MTT) to provide riot-control training. The 
Carter administration had hoped to use military aid to persuade 
the army to curb its human rights abuses, make basic reforms, and 
allow civilian rule. The murders of four churchwomen from the 
United States in December 1980, however, provoked the Carter 
White House into suspending US$5 million in military aid. After 
the FMLN guerrillas launched a major offensive in January 1981 , 
United States military aid was renewed (see The United States 
Takes a Hand, ch. 1). 

The new administration of President Ronald Reagan was 
alarmed by reports that military aid was being provided by the 
Soviet Union and East European countries to the guerrillas through 
Cuba and Nicaragua; the administration was also concerned about 
the prospect of "another Nicaragua" in Central America. Accord- 
ingly, in March 1981 it provided US$20 million in emergency funds 
and US$5 million in FMS credits for new equipment and supplies 
for the Salvadoran Army. A five-member United States advisory 
team helped the Salvadoran Army to reorganize its command struc- 
ture, streamline planning, and develop intelligence and commu- 
nications techniques. The United States also sent an additional 40 
Special Forces trainers-advisers to El Salvador to train the first of 
four 1,000-man "rapid reaction" battalions, the Atlacatl Battal- 
ion. The United States military mission in El Salvador expanded 
in 1981 to include a naval element. That year the first group of 
500 Salvadoran officer candidates participated in a general officer 
training course at Fort Benning, Georgia. The United States also 
began training Salvadoran NCOs in Panama. In 1982 Special 
Forces provided counterinsurgency training to the Belloso Battal- 
ion and the Atonal Battalion. By late 1983, the United States had 
trained 900 Salvadoran officers, or half the entire officer corps. 

The United States also provided both indirect and direct war- 
related assistance to help El Salvador in its war against the FMLN. 
The indirect aid accounted for about 44 percent of the total United 


Helicopters on alert status, Ilopango Air Base 
Courtesy Donald C. Keffer 

States assistance program up to the mid-1980s. This category in- 
cluded cash transfers to sustain the Salvadoran government and 
economy, aid to displaced people, and assistance to rebuild infra- 
structure damaged by guerrilla sabotage. Some 30 percent of the 
total program consisted of funds used to expand the army, train 
the soldiers, and provide the equipment and facilities needed to 
conduct the counterinsurgency efforts. 

The provision of military aid to El Salvador was not without its 
critics in the United States government. By 1982, when the Reagan 
administration had more than doubled direct military assistance 
to El Salvador to US$82 million, the United States Congress re- 
quired the president to certify semiannually that the Salvadoran 
government was making substantial progress in controlling the mili- 
tary, improving its human rights practices, and implementing eco- 
nomic and political reform. Failure to issue such a certification 
would trigger a suspension of United States military aid. In 1983 
Congress passed a continuing resolution that withheld 30 percent 
of the military aid until Salvadoran authorities obtained a verdict 
in the trial of the members of the GN accused of murdering the 
churchwomen from the United States. In 1984 Congress passed 
another continuing resolution that made aid disbursements con- 
ditional on the Reagan administration's consultation with Con- 
gress. The resolution also called for substantial progress in the 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

reduction of death squad activities, elimination of corruption, im- 
provement in the military's performance, and progress toward a 
peaceful resolution of the conflict. 

The Reagan administration sought to establish a domestic con- 
sensus on United States policy toward Central America by way 
of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (the 
Kissinger Commission). The commission concluded in January 
1984 that the 37,500-man Salvadoran Army was too small to break 
the military stalemate with the 9,000 to 12,000 increasingly well- 
trained and well-armed FMLN guerrillas. It therefore recom- 
mended that the United States significantly and quickly increase 
military aid — conditioned on demonstrated progress in meeting 
specified human rights goals — to give the Salvadoran military the 
ability to carry out an effective and more humane counterinsur- 
gency effort. The commission's recommendations were instrumen- 
tal in securing increased levels of United States military aid for 
El Salvador. During the next four years, El Salvador received an 
average of US$100 million annually in United States military as- 
sistance. The assistance levels peaked at US$197 million in fiscal 
year (FY) 1984, then declined steadily, reaching US$89 million 
in FY 1988. 

In 1983 and 1984, about 3,500 Salvadorans attended United 
States-taught training courses at the Regional Military Training 
Center (RMTC), operated by the United States forces at Puerto 
Castilla, Honduras, as an alternative to more costly training in the 
United States or an increase in the number of United States advisers 
in El Salvador. That September, however, the Honduran govern- 
ment banned Salvadoran troops from the facility, owing in part 
to a lack of progress in talks between Honduras and El Salvador 
over their longstanding border dispute. Honduras reportedly also 
was uneasy over the United States military training on Honduran 
territory of personnel from El Salvador, its adversary in the 1969 
war. When Honduras and the United States failed to reach an 
accord over the training issue, the RMTC was closed in June 1985. 

The United States began sending military advisers, officially 
designated * 'trainers," to El Salvador in 1983 to help instruct the 
army in basic skills and counterinsurgency tactics. The Reagan 
administration imposed a limit of fifty-five American advisers in 
El Salvador and adhered to that figure. In 1988 only half of the 
fifty-five reportedly were involved in training; the others performed 
administrative duties. 

El Salvador also received military-related assistance from several 
other countries in the 1980s. In 1982 Argentina supplied a cadre 
of military advisers with a large order of Argentine-made infantry 


National Security 

equipment. Israel reportedly provided assistance in the form of 
counterinsurgency training. Both Britain and Belgium offered mili- 
tary training to the Salvadoran Army after the Honduran deci- 
sion to bar Salvadoran military personnel. By the mid-1980s, West 
Germany was a major supplier of military assistance. 

The Security Forces 
Historical Background 

In the early post-colonial period, the primary function of police 
forces was to enforce, at the behest of local authorities of towns 
and communities, an 1825 law on vagrancy in order to ensure an 
adequate supply of labor for the large landowners. New regula- 
tions issued in 1855 established a state-subsidized regional "rural 
police" force, whose roving inspectors were to patrol the highways 
and countryside and to penalize offenders for minor offenses by 
fining or jailing them. 

Salvadoran police structures, including the National Police 
(Policia Nacional — PN), which was founded in 1867, developed 
in the later part of the nineteenth century for the purpose of as- 
suming most of the internal security functions that the urban-based 
militia or army had been performing. In 1883 San Salvador set 
up a permanent professional police corps of 100 men and 18 officers 
and administrators. As a result of the liberal government's mea- 
sures to deprive the Indian population of their land, expanded police 
forces were needed to deal with the growing Indian unrest. An 1888 
legislative decree authorized the formation of a rural mounted police 
corps for the prosperous coffee- growing areas of western El Sal- 
vador, principally the departments of Ahuachapan, Sonsonate, and 
Santa Ana. 

A national urban police system developed concurrently with the 
rural National Guard (Guardia Nacional — GN). By the end of 
1906, the full-time police forces of the other major cities were linked 
administratively to the San Salvador police. President Manuel 
Araujo established the basis of a professional law enforcement sys- 
tem in 1912 when he appointed a Spanish army captain as com- 
mander of all the permanent civil police organizations. The cap- 
tain formed a national police corps of 1,200 officers and men and 
developed a training program. 

The evolution of the rural police system culminated in 1912 when 
two Spanish officers formed a Salvadoran version of the Spanish 
Civil Guard called the GN. Placed under the operational control 
of the Ministry of Government and Development, the guard's 
black-helmeted troops were organized specifically to defend coffee 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

and fruit plantations from thousands of peasants evicted from what 
had been communal properties. Although the main duty of the GN 
was to control the rural population, it also enforced petty agrarian 
provisions and kept records on personnel employed by plantations. 
Thus, many GN units — like their army counterparts — acted as pri- 
vate armies for the large landowners. The Treasury Police (Policia 
de Hacienda — PH), formed in 1926, functioned mainly as a frontier 
guard and customs force. Its initial mission was primarily to pre- 
vent campesinos from producing chicha, the local version of corn 

In January 1932, a month after taking power, Martinez ordered 
his security forces to use indiscriminate violence to suppress a rural 
revolt in western El Salvador organized by the newly established 
Communist Party of El Salvador (Partido Comunista de El Salva- 
dor — PCES). The GN and Civic Guard (Guardia Civica), a newly 
created civilian militia, thereupon massacred, by most historical 
accounts, approximately 30,000 peasants, trade unionists, and op- 
position members in la matanza and captured and executed the com- 
munist leader, Agustm Farabundo Marti (see The Coffee Republic, 
ch. 1). 

The Martinez regime refined a system of stricter control of the 
rural population by developing the rural security forces, includ- 
ing the Civic Guard, with units in each of more than 2,000 local 
communities. After the rebellion, Civic Guard units functioned as 
a private militia for wealthy families and military commanders. 
The regime based its new security measures largely on existing legis- 
lation and the Agrarian Code, which it revised in 1941 in order 
to set down guidelines for law enforcement and the regimentation 
of rural life. The basic organization of the security system as es- 
tablished by Martinez operated with little modification until the 
1980s. The Revolution of 1948, however, reversed the subordina- 
tion of the army to the security services and disbanded the Civic 
Guard. The three police forces thereafter assumed primary respon- 
sibility for internal security. 

In the early 1960s, some Salvadoran officers of an extreme rightist 
orientation formed paramilitary organizations to assist the army 
and GN in fighting subversion with unconventional and illegal 
methods (see Right-Wing Extremism, this ch.). The GN's Colonel 
Jose Alberto "Chele" Medrano helped found the Nationalist 
Democratic Organization (Organizacion Democratica Naciona- 
lista — Orden). By the mid-1960s, Orden was a well-established, 
nationwide network of peasant informants and paramilitary forces, 
with a unit in most villages. Local army commanders supervised 
these units in coordination with GN commanders. Recruits came 


National Security 

primarily from the army reserve system, and the GN provided most 
of their training. Orden units performed regular patrolling duties 
in their local areas, served as an informant network, and attempted 
to inculcate an anticommunist doctrine among the rural popula- 
tion. With the support of President Fidel Sanchez Hernandez, its 
"supreme chief," and Medrano, its "executive director," the 
organization expanded its role in the late 1960s to include involve- 
ment in civic action and development projects. Because of the in- 
fluence of some of the more zealous GN intelligence officers, 
however, Orden deteriorated into an undisciplined and even ruthless 
militia of between 50,000 and 100,000 members. After Medrano's 
removal from power in 1970, Orden 's status was reduced from offi- 
cial to semiofficial by removing it from direct presidential control. 

By the early 1970s, an extensive paramilitary organization utiliz- 
ing the structure and personnel of Orden supplemented the tradi- 
tional security system. Although the reformist coalition that seized 
power in October 1979 issued decrees to outiaw and disband Orden 
that November, the organization apparendy was abolished in name 
only. In 1976 a new civil defense law had established a system to 
assist in national emergencies and to counter attempts at rural in- 
surgency. The membership of the new civil defense units that were 
finally organized in 1981 reportedly tended to overlap with that 
of Orden. The main purpose of the new civil defense units was 
to serve as local self-defense militia and to repel guerrilla attacks 
on villages. By the late 1980s, the Salvadoran Army claimed to 
have organized 21,000 civil defense troops in 319 communities, 
with another 10,000 troops in training. Despite being lightly armed 
and poorly trained, the civil defense troops were an important sup- 
plement to the thinly stretched army. 

Mission and Organization 

In 1988, El Salvador's internal security forces, called the public 
security forces, consisted of the GN, with 4,200 members; the PN, 
with 6,000 members; and the PH, with about 2,400 members. 
These services were supported by the territorial Civil Defense 
(Defensa Civil — DC), with about 24,000 members. Although con- 
trolled by the minister of defense and public security, even in peace- 
time, and engaged in the counterinsurgency effort, the public secu- 
rity forces had primarily a police role. By mid- 1988 the police forces 
had improved markedly in professionalism and performance, but 
they still lacked sufficient training and resources to deter or respond 
effectively to terrorist attacks. 

The PN was responsible for urban security, the GN for rural 
security, and the PH — including customs and immigration per- 
sonnel — for the prevention of smuggling, for border control, and 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

for the enforcement of laws relating to alcohol production and as- 
sociated tax matters. The GN was organized into fourteen com- 
panies, one for each of the fourteen departments. A tactical struc- 
ture of five commands or battalions could replace the regular or- 
ganization in an emergency. The PN was divided into the Line 
Police (Policia de Lmea), which functioned as an urban police force; 
the Traffic Police (Policia de Transito), which handled traffic in 
urban areas; the Highway Patrol (Policia de Caminos); the Depart- 
ment of Investigations (Departamento de Investigaciones), or plain- 
clothes detective force; and the Night Watchmen and Bank Guards 
Corps (Cuerpo de Vigilantes Nocturnos y Bancarios). 

Until the early 1980s, the security forces were among the most 
notorious violators of human rights in El Salvador. The PH, with 
an extensive network of rural informants, evolved into the most 
select and brutal of the three security forces during its first fifty 
years. Police and army units were involved in a number of bloody 
incidents when they attempted to break up large demonstrations 
(see The Reformist Coup of 1979, ch. 1). 

After taking office as president in 1984, however, Duarte, in an 
effort to tighten discipline and centralize control over the tradition- 
ally semiautonomous security forces, created the new position of 
vice minister of defense and public security and named Colonel 
Lopez Nuila to fill it. Lopez Nuila thereupon reorganized all police 
forces and private guard organizations as he sought to clarify the 
ambiguous, overlapping responsibilities of the PN, PH, and GN. 
The reorganization gave the PN sole responsibility for urban law 
and order and restricted the GN's authority to rural areas. In ad- 
dition, Lopez Nuila merged the Customs Police (Policia de Aduana) 
with the PH, thus removing the latter from nationwide law-and- 
order duties and restricting it to handling border duties and 
supervising the defense of state property and customs. Lopez Nuila 
also replaced the controversial PH director general, Carranza, with 
an ally, Colonel Rinaldo Golcher. Golcher placed all other paramili- 
tary organizations — from the guard forces that defended electric 
companies and banks to the private guards that were hired by indi- 
viduals or private firms — under the control and licensing of the 
PH. Lopez Nuila also made an effort to purge the security ser- 
vices of disreputable personnel. He announced in December 1986 
that 1 ,806 members of the public security forces had been dismissed 
between June 1985 and May 1986. 

In November 1986, Duarte inaugurated a program under which 
the three security services would receive training. As a result, man- 
datory human rights instruction became part of police recruit train- 
ing and officers' classes in the late 1980s. The security forces 


Member of National Guard 
Courtesy Donald C. Keffer 

instituted a separate intensive human rights training program 
for all police. By early 1988, virtually all members of the PN 
had received the course, and the GN was in the process of receiv- 
ing it. 

Foreign Security Assistance 

The United States provided some basic equipment and training 
to the public security forces. Between 1957 and 1974, the United 
States, under the auspices of the Public Safety Program of the 
Agency for International Development (AID), improved the law 
enforcement investigations, communications, and intelligence capa- 
bilities of the police services, including the GN. The US$2.1 mil- 
lion program assisted in the formation of two fifty-member, rapid- 
reaction, riot-control units based at the national police headquar- 
ters in the capital and similar units in national police quarters in 
San Miguel and Santa Ana. Program advisers also reorganized the 
Police Academy and implemented various measures to improve 
police antiterrorist capabilities. The GN's Special Investigations 
Section (Servicio de Investigaciones Especiales — SIE) received con- 
siderable United States assistance in the early 1970s. The Public 
Safety Program also aided in expanding and training personnel 
of the Customs Police, which grew from 250 members in 1967 to 
527 in 1974. Until 1981 the Carter administration limited United 
States security assistance to El Salvador to "nonlethal" items, such 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

as bullet-proof vests, in an unsuccessful attempt to force the 
Salvadoran security forces to improve their human rights practices. 

In late 1985, the Reagan administration, alarmed by several sig- 
nificant terrorist incidents in El Salvador, including the slaying of 
five Marine guards attached to the United States embassy, noti- 
fied Congress that three United States military advisers in El Sal- 
vador would begin training 420 members of the PH, PN, and GN 
in antiterrorism techniques. The administration also intended to 
equip these forces with rifles, ammunition, patrol vehicles, and com- 
munications gear. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 prohibited 
the United States from providing financial support, training, or 
advice for the law enforcement forces of any foreign country. The 
United States Congress, however, passed an amendment to the 
act waiving the general police aid prohibition for El Salvador and 
Honduras for FY 1986 and FY 1987, contingent on biannual 
presidential certification of significant progress in reducing human 
rights violations in those countries. Under the waiver, the United 
States provided US$3.1 million in police training to El Salvador 
in FY 1986 and another US$14 million in FY 1987 through both 
the Antiterrorism Assistance Act and the Administration of Justice 

United States efforts to aid the counterterrorist capability of the 
Salvadoran armed forces included the formation in 1985 of a 
hostage-rescue unit called the Special Antiterrorist Command 
(Comando Especial Anti-Terrorista — CEAT). Although under the 
direct command of the army chief of staff, the CEAT reportedly 
consisted of PH members. Under the United States Law Enforce- 
ment Counterterrorism Assistance Program, El Salvador received 
several million dollars in police assistance. As a result of funding 
cutbacks, only three trainers were working with the public secur- 
ity forces on a national level in mid- 1988. That year, the security 
forces also organized the Joint Intelligence Operations Center 
(Centro de Operaciones Conjuntos de Inteligencia — COCI), with 
a mission to collect, integrate, and analyze intelligence relating to 
terrorist activities in the San Salvador metropolitan area. 

Threats to Internal Security 

In the final quarter of 1988, El Salvador continued to suffer the 
effects of a nine-year-old insurgency by the FMLN, whose 6,000 
to 8,000 armed combatants — a figure reduced by attrition and 
desertion from the estimated 12,000 guerrillas in the field in 
1984 — received varying degrees of support from Nicaragua, Cuba, 
and the Soviet Union. By most estimates, more than 63,000 peo- 
ple, or about 1.2 percent of the nation's total population, had died 


National Security 

in political violence since 1979, victims of either leftist guerrillas, 
the military, or right-wing death squads. At the same time, 25 to 
30 percent of the population had been displaced or had fled the 
country as a result of the conflict. Tutela Legal (Legal Aid — the 
human rights monitoring office of the archdiocese of San Salvador) 
and other human rights groups claimed that the rightist death 
squads had murdered more than 40,000 Salvadorans by 1985. Dur- 
ing the Duarte government, military and right-wing death squad 
activity declined significantly, partially as a result of United States 
threats to withhold economic and military assistance. 

In January 1987, constitutional rights were restored when the 
state of siege, instituted in 1980 and regularly renewed since that 
date, was allowed to lapse. Extraordinary legislation governing the 
prosecution of persons suspected of involvement with the insur- 
gency (Decree 50) expired several weeks later. Although the mili- 
tary was concerned that the failure to renew these security decrees 
would adversely affect their ability to conduct the war, it complied 
nonetheless by reinstating due process procedures as set forth in 
the Constitution. The security forces followed presidential orders 
not to take coercive action to halt a series of violent demonstra- 
tions and strikes by guerrilla urban front groups, whose members 
vandalized and destroyed public and private property, in the May 
to August period of 1987. 

Under the general amnesty law of November 1987, passed by 
the Legislative Assembly in an effort to comply with the Central 
American Peace Agreement, the government released about 470 
suspected or convicted insurgents — including some involved in 
several major terrorist incidents — along with a few former mili- 
tary personnel involved in death squad murders. The amnesty cov- 
ered "politically related crimes" and all common crimes commit- 
ted in a group of more than twenty persons. It specifically exclud- 
ed, however, the crime of kidnapping, the 1980 murder of Arch- 
bishop Romero, and the period after October 22, 1987. Interpreted 
broadly, the amnesty could prevent charges from being filed for 
massacres by the military and killings by the death squads and could 
require the release of soldiers convicted of human rights abuses. 
Both the left and the right criticized the law; the left objected to 
an effective pardon for thousands of death squad assassinations, 
and the far right condemned pardons for acts of terrorism and 

The government's leniency did litde to alleviate political violence, 
however. The capital city was exposed almost daily to leftist- 
sponsored demonstrations, strikes, and economic sabotage, as well 
as bombings. According to the United States Department of State, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

in the first quarter of 1988 the capital suffered 213 incidents of 
sabotage against its telecommunications and electrical systems, as 
well as 49 acts of economic sabotage and 138 strikes or demon- 

Right-Wing Extremism 


The death squads that became active in the late 1970s had their 
historical roots in El Salvador's three security forces, which often 
functioned as a law unto themselves. Each security service had its 
own special unit charged with assassinating suspected "subver- 
sives." The PH's intelligence section, the S-2, in particular was 
persistently linked to the political killings and kidnappings that be- 
came commonplace in the 1970s and early 1980s. Immediately after 
being appointed PH director general in 1984, Golcher disbanded 
the S-2 unit. Within six months, he had replaced it with a new 
forty-member police force trained by the PN in intelligence work. 

The extreme right responded to the left-wing terrorism of the 
1970s and the growing militancy of the popular (or mass) organi- 
zations in a violent fashion. Paramilitary forces — first Orden, later 
civil defense — supplemented the military establishment. Ultra- 
rightists within the military, security forces, and oligarchy also or- 
ganized death squads to eliminate leftist activists and sympathizers 
and to deter popular support through intimidation. Analysts gener- 
ally agreed that right-wing death squads — often composed of active- 
duty military or security force personnel operating with the com- 
plicity of some senior officers of the armed forces — were responsi- 
ble for thousands of murders in the 1970s and 1980s. At the same 
time, the regime's security forces themselves became increasingly 

Orden supplied recruits for the notorious White Hand (Mano 
Blanca), the death squad that Medrano organized in the late 1970s. 
Medrano's protege, D'Aubuisson, reportedly helped organize the 
White Warriors Union (Union de Guerreros Blancos — UGB), a 
group of death squads that emerged in early 1977 and became 
known for their terrorism against the Jesuit community working 
in El Salvador. Some military officers, particularly in the GN, pri- 
vately supported and facilitated death squad killings during the 
Romero regime. The UGB reportedly was associated with the GN's 
intelligence branch (the G-2). 

Extreme rightist political factions viewed the death squads as 
legitimate "counterterrorists" against the leftist guerrillas, and they 
did in fact do serious damage to the FMLN's urban base by 1982. 

National Security 

In 1983, however, the death squads were used to challenge directly 
the influence of the United States in El Salvador. They forced at 
least one American journalist out of the country, threatened a 
prominent labor leader supported by the United States embassy, 
and even threatened to assassinate United States ambassador 
Thomas Pickering. Other death squad victims included bureaucrats 
and office workers, labor organizers, professionals, politicians, 
priests, and even soldiers. 

Right-wing terrorism crested during the 1980-82 period. At the 
peak of the violence in late 1980, the monthly toll of politically moti- 
vated murders ran between 700 and 800. In the most publicized 
political assassination of this period, suspected rightists shot Arch- 
bishop Romero — an outspoken advocate of dialogue with the popu- 
lar organizations and a critic of military repression — while he was 
saying mass on March 24, 1980 (see The Role of Religion, ch. 2). 
An extreme right-wing group calling itself the Maximiliano 
Hernandez Martinez Brigade claimed responsibility for several as- 
sassinations of Christian democratic and Marxist leaders in San 
Salvador in 1980. Four churchwomen from the United States were 
murdered in December 1980. Several army officers were linked 
to the submachine gun killings of two land reform advisers of the 
American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) in San 
Salvador's Sheraton Hotel on January 3, 1981, an act that was 
carried out by two GN corporals. After the cut-off of United States 
aid over the murders of the churchwomen, the Christian Democrats 
in the government were able to remove from command positions 
several key ultra-rightists, including Carranza, the deputy minister 
of defense and public security. 

Curbing the Death Squads 

In December 1983, the Reagan administration promised Magana 
an additional US$100 million in military aid if his government took 
action against the death squads and dismissed from their official 
posts or transferred abroad at least eight armed forces officers and 
one civilian who had been identified as death squad leaders. Vice 
President George Bush personally visited San Salvador, however, 
to deliver the more decisive message that aid would be cut off if 
the abuses did not stop. The United States specifically asked for 
a halt to secret arrests by the three security forces and demonstra- 
ble progress in the court cases involving the murders of the church- 
women and the AIFLD advisers. 

In response, senior Salvadoran officials and the armed forces 
leadership pledged a major crackdown on right-wing death squad 
activity and asked the United States for technical and investigative 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

assistance in dealing with these groups. The Salvadoran Army also 
quietly dismissed or transferred abroad the officers whose names 
were on the United States list of suspects. In addition, the PN 
arrested a captain who had been linked to the murder of the two 
AIFLD advisers, but he was held on charges unrelated to the 

Despite these actions, the existence of the death squads remained 
a controversial issue in the United States in the late 1980s. In con- 
gressional testimony in February 1984, former United States am- 
bassador to El Salvador Robert E. White identified six wealthy 
Salvadoran landowners, then living in exile in Miami, as the prin- 
cipal financiers of the death squads. Critics of the Reagan adminis- 
tration's Salvadoran policy also alleged that the United States had 
indirectly supported the death squads. After a six-month investi- 
gation, however, the United States Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence reported in October 1984 that there was no evidence 
to support such allegations. 

In 1984 and 1985, Duarte transferred to lesser positions several 
military officers with alleged links to death squads. During the 
1984-88 period, the civilian government and armed forces reiter- 
ated their opposition to death squad activity and their commitment 
to dealing with the problem. As a result, death squad killings 
declined sharply. According to Tutela Legal, the annual totals of 
death squad killings were 225 in 1984, 136 in 1985, 45 in 1986, 
and 24 in 1987. Although violence continued to be endemic in El 
Salvador, the number of politically motivated deaths reported in 
the Salvadoran press averaged 28 per month during the first half 
of 1987, as compared with 64 in 1984 and 140 in 1983. These figures 
probably were inexact, but they indicated a general downward 
trend. Of the 183 political murders reported in the local press dur- 
ing the first nine months of 1987, most were attributed to the 
FMLN; only 2 were blamed on the extreme right and 5 on mili- 
tary personnel. 

Death squad activities began to pick up, however, in late 1987 
after the signing of the Central American Peace Agreement. The 
number of right-wing death squad killings reportedly continued 
to creep upward in 1988. According to Tutela Legal, suspected 
right-wing death squads killed thirty-two civilians during the first 
half of 1988. 

Left-Wing Extremism 

Background to the Insurgency 

The FMLN insurgency was rooted in the 1960s when reform- 
minded groups emerged to challenge the alliance of the right-wing 


National Security 

military and the landowning oligarchy. With the electoral option 
blocked by fraudulent presidential elections in 1972 and 1977, leftist 
groups resorted to militant demonstrations and terrorism to pro- 
mote change. A pattern of mounting violence and polarization 
resulted (see The 1970s: The Road to Revolt, ch. 1). As in the 
early 1930s, the growing conflict had focused on the peasant popu- 
lation; most campesinos still lived at a subsistence level, and about 
two-fifths of rural families had no land at all (see Rural Life, ch. 2). 
The regime's token land reform of 1976 did little to address this 
longstanding problem. Political violence and the suspension of rights 
through the declaration of states of siege only served to further 
radicalize the left, including the Catholic groups increasingly in- 
fluenced by liberation theology (see Glossary). 

The Salvadoran guerrilla groups that emerged in the 1970s 
derived directly or indirectly from a 1969 split within the illegal, 
Moscow-line Communist Party of El Salvador (Partido Comunista 
de El Salvador — PCES) between the old-line Communists and a 
vocal minority faction of firebrand revolutionaries led by PCES 
secretary general Salvador Cayetano Carpio ("Marcial"). In April 
1970, Carpio and his followers broke away from the PCES and 
founded the Popular Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Populares de 
Liberation — FPL). Under Carpio 's leadership, the FPL advocated 
doctrinaire adherence to a Vietnamese-style "prolonged popular 
war" strategy against ''imperialism" and the Salvadoran oligar- 
chy. During the FPL's formative years, the National University 
in San Salvador was the largest urban center for recruiting and 
training members of the FPL and its mass organization, the Revolu- 
tionary Popular Bloc (Bloque Popular Revolucionario — BPR). With 
the aid of the clergy, the FPL recruited its cadres mostly from the 
National Association of Salvadoran Educators (Asociacion Nacional 
de Educadores Salvadorenos — ANDES) and its rank-and-file 
mainly from the Federation of Salvadoran Christian Peasants (Fed- 
eration de Campesinos Cristianos Salvadorenos — Feccas) and the 
Union of Farm Workers (Union de Trabaj adores del Campo — 

In 1971 another group of PCES dissidents, disenchanted with 
the FPL's strategy of a prolonged popular war, left the party and 
joined with dissident students, religious activists, and PDC members 
to form the People's Revolutionary Army (Ejercito Revolucionario 
del Pueblo— ERP). The ERP's "militarist" faction, headed by 
Joaquin Villalobos Hueso ("Rene Cruz"), contended that 
Sandinista-style popular insurrection could be sparked by dramatic 
armed attacks on the existing power structure. The ERP's "polit- 
ical" faction, led by Roque Dalton, a communist Salvadoran poet, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

emphasized the ideological preparation of the masses before under- 
taking major armed actions and the development of broad coali- 
tions with other groups. After the Villalobos group passed death 
sentences on Dalton's followers, Villalobos reportedly murdered 
Dalton on May 10, 1975. 

Under the leadership of Villalobos, the ERP advocated a strongly 
pro-Cuban, Marxist-Leninist ideology based on Ernesto ''Che" 
Guevara's foco, or insurrectional center, theory of guerrilla warfare, 
as well as Maoist and West European revolutionary theories. Most 
of the ERP's cadres were of middle-class background, mainly 
university dropouts or professionals. They included considerably 
more women and foreigners than the other guerrilla groups. A lead- 
ing ERP field commander, Ana Guadalupe Martinez, author of 
the propagandistic El Salvador's Clandestine Prisons, served as a main 
spokesperson on international affairs for the Revolutionary 
Democratic Front (Frente Democratico Revolucionario — FDR). 
Some cadres had radical Christian backgrounds. Rank-and-file ele- 
ments generally were workers but also included some forcibly 
recruited peasants. Although the PCES and the other guerrilla 
groups that formed the FMLN in 1980 initially ostracized the ERP, 
Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz pressured the FMLN groups into 
including the ERP in the alliance. 

Immediately after Dalton's murder, his followers broke away 
from the ERP and established the Armed Forces of National 
Resistance (Fuerzas Armadas de Resistencia Nacional — FARN). 
The FARN originated at the National University, and most of its 
cadres came from the middle class. Although led by a self-described 
Marxist, Eduardo Sancho Castaneda ("Ferman Cienfuegos"), the 
FARN developed close ties internationally with moderate social 
democrats and domestically with liberal members of the Salvado- 
ran armed forces. On February 2, 1977, FARN and PCES dissi- 
dents, together with Salvadoran exiles living in Costa Rica, formed 
a Salvadoran branch of a Trotskyite regional organization called 
the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers (Partido 
Revolucionario de Trabajadores Centroamericanos — PRTC). The 
PRTC recruited primarily from the National University in San 
Salvador, which PRTC leader Francisco Jovel ("Roberto Roca") 
had attended, and from the labor unions. Although the PRTC 
initially had a reputation for unpredictable radicalism and close 
ties to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), 
it moved toward more orthodox Marxism-Leninism after joining 
the FMLN in December 1980. Nevertheless, it continued to advo- 
cate a nonaligned international stance. 


National Security 

The PCES, under its new leader, Jorge Shafik Handal, followed 
the Moscow line in the 1970s, supporting reformist, noncommunist 
governments and an electoral strategy. At its April 1979 party con- 
gress, however, the PCES, which already had begun organizing 
its own guerrilla group, the Armed Forces of Liberation (Fuerzas 
Armadas de Liberacion — FAL), adopted an ' 'armed struggle" 
policy. While serving in the reformist government that came to 
power in a civil-military coup in October 1979, the PCES continued 
to prepare for guerrilla and terrorist activities by sending its recruits 
to training camps in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and 
Nicaragua. Although commanded exclusively by PCES cadres, 
FAL was made up mostly, not of party members, but of rural-based 
guerrillas who had been gradually indoctrinated into serving as 
PCES followers. By the late 1970s, the PCES consisted primarily 
of middle-class elements and cadres of some workers' organizations. 
Although Handal espoused a "dialectical combination" of the 
ERP's insurrectional approach and the FPL's protracted popular 
war strategy, he remained more oriented toward the ERP. 

During the 1977-79 period, the left-wing mass organizations con- 
ducted a campaign of civil disobedience, demonstrations, and 
takeovers of churches, government buildings, and foreign embas- 
sies. Much of this activity was perpetrated by the three largest mass 
organizations— the FPL's BPR, the FARN's United Popular Action 
Front (Frente de Action Popular Unidad — FAPU), and the ERP's 
28th of February Popular Leagues (Ligas Populares 28 de 
Febrero — LP-28). At the same time, the extreme left engaged in 
numerous significant acts of terrorism, such as the kidnapping of 
foreign businessmen for fund-raising purposes, political kidnap- 
pings, assassinations, and bombings. The FARN specialized in kid- 
napping and claimed to have raised US$60 million in ransoms in 
the late 1970s. 

Most of the mass organizations rejected talks with the reformist 
junta that took power in January 1980. Instead, they consolidated 
their forces by forming the Revolutionary Coordinator of the Masses 
(Coordinadora Revolucionaria de las Masas — CRM) at the same 
time that the armed left increased its own efforts at greater coordi- 
nation. In April 1980, the CRM allied itself with the Democratic 
Front (Frente Democratico) — an alliance consisting of disaffected 
Christian Democrats, Social Democrats led by Guillermo Manuel 
Ungo Revelo, and a small association of professionals. The merger 
of these two umbrella organizations created the FDR, which recog- 
nized the guerrilla movement as its "vanguard." Although the 
Romero assassination enabled the FDR, through the mass organi- 
zations, to mobilize tens of thousands of demonstrators in the spring 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

of 1980, the overall movement was hampered by a lack of arms, 
poor coordination between guerrilla and noncombatant forces, con- 
tinued infighting, and severe repression by the security forces. 

In May 1980, the guerrilla leaders met in Havana and formed 
a political-military command, the Unified Revolutionary Direc- 
torate (Direction Revolucionaria Unificada — DRU), as their central 
executive arm for political and military planning. Unification of 
forces reportedly was a precondition for Cuban aid to the Salvado- 
ran insurgents. The DRU established its headquarters near 
Managua and helped to direct planning and operations and coor- 
dinate logistical support for its forces in El Salvador. The fifteen- 
member DRU included three leaders from each of the five guer- 
rilla groups: the ERP, FPL, FARN, FAL/PCES, and, beginning 
in late 1980, the PRTC. The DRU also included a five-member 
executive directorate, known as the General Command, consist- 
ing of the principal leaders of the five guerrilla groups: the ERP's 
Villalobos (the first among equals of the FMLN commanders), the 
FPL's Leonel Gonzalez, the FARN's Sancho, the PRTC's Fran- 
cisco Jovel, and the FAL/PCES's Handal. 

The guerrilla groups took a step toward closer unity in October 
1980 by forming the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front 
(Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberation Nacional-Frente Demo- 
cratic© Revolucionario — FMLN-FDR), which constituted an um- 
brella entity or alliance for operational and strategic coordination 
among the insurgent forces and their popular fronts. The FMLN 
had a leadership structure (DRU), a regional military organization 
(five guerrilla fronts), and a political-diplomatic front (the FDR). 
A self-described Marxist- Leninist movement with a generally pro- 
Soviet and pro-Cuban orientation, the FMLN-FDR committed 
itself to seizing power through a two-pronged military strategy of 
economic sabotage and a prolonged guerrilla war of attrition based 
on a combination of Maoist, Vietnamese, and Guevarist princi- 
ples. It sought to entrench its rural guerrilla forces while develop- 
ing urban support bases in preparation for an eventual general 
insurrection. During the 1980-82 period, politically related vio- 
lence in El Salvador increased dramatically as the former terrorist 
groups completed their transition to primarily guerrilla organi- 

In preparation for the FMLN's "final offensive" of January 1981 
(the name of which seemed to contradict the FPL's long-term stra- 
tegy), tons of modern weapons, primarily United States-made arms 
from captured stockpiles in Vietnam, were delivered covertly to 
guerrilla forces in El Salvador, mostly through Cuba and Nicaragua. 
Despite the substantial weapons deliveries, the 1981 offensive failed 


National Security 

in its effort to incite a countrywide insurrection; the FMLN had 
greatly overestimated its popular support and the efficiency of its 
outside supply system. Salvadoran military and security forces, 
operating with minimal United States assistance (military aid had 
been suspended until then), beat back the offensive after about ten 
days of combat. The vast majority of Salvadorans ignored the 
FMLN's call for an uprising, much to the chagrin of guerrilla 
strategists. The FMLN tried and failed again to defeat the army 
in a general offensive in early 1982. After these setbacks, however, 
the five FMLN groups worked to increase their strategic and tac- 
tical coordination and made substantial progress during 1982 in 
overcoming logistical and communications problems. They began 
to equip their forces increasingly with United States-made weapons 
and equipment captured from the army or purchased in the inter- 
national gray arms market. In addition, United States officials 
maintained that Nicaraguan supplies for the FMLN continued to 
be sent by sea, air, and land to El Salvador almost daily. 

The FMLN overcame major factional disputes during 1983. At 
a January 1983 meeting of the FPL's Central Committee, the doc- 
trinaire line of Carpio, a long-time opponent of close cooperation 
with other FMLN groups, reportedly was voted down in favor of 
greater FMLN unity of action, as advocated by another senior FPL 
leader, Ana Melinda Montes ("Ana Maria"). Nevertheless, the 
existence of a continuing deep division over policy within the guer- 
rilla forces was revealed in April 1983 by the bizarre murder and 
suicide, respectively, in Managua of Carpio and Montes. The 
deaths weakened the FPL's influence in the FMLN in favor of the 
ERP, whose leader, Villalobos, had long advocated greater oper- 
ational cooperation. In September 1983, however, the long-standing 
policy dispute within the FPL eased substantially with the consoli- 
dation of a position emphasizing unity with other FMLN groups 
and openness toward cooperation with outside groups. The FPL's 
policy shift reduced friction with the FMLN's four other military 
factions and with Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista National Libera- 
tion Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberation Nacional — FSLN). 
Furthermore, the FPL, which previously had operated largely in- 
dependently of other FMLN groups, formally agreed to cooperate 
in a centralized military command (the DRU). 

The relatively united FMLN again went on the offensive that 
September and decisively escalated the war from company- to 
battalion-level guerrilla combat, involving as many as 500 guer- 
rillas in an offensive. Over the next five years, the conflict remained 
a military stalemate. The FMLN established a sophisticated in- 
ternal communications system linking its fronts and became — 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

allegedly with Cuban and Nicaraguan assistance — better trained 
and armed. The organization, which by 1984 reportedly was receiv- 
ing mostly ammunition, not weapons, from Nicaragua, also 
achieved important military tactical successes. By early 1984, the 
Salvadoran Army held less than a four-to-one advantage over a 
guerrilla force of at least 9,000 combatants, down from 10,000 to 
12,000 in 1983 (military tacticians usually consider a ten- to-one 
advantage the minimum necessary to defeat a guerrilla insurgency). 

Some commentators opined that the insurgents had failed deci- 
sively by the end of 1984 and that the war was winding down. The 
FMLN was put on the defensive in 1984 and 1985 when substan- 
tial United States military aid was rushed in and the Salvadoran 
Army expanded rapidly. Under heavy pressure in the rural area 
it once dominated, the FMLN committed itself to a new long-term 
strategy and began rebuilding its political bases — peasant, labor, 
and student militant groups — in cities and towns. Many guerril- 
las hid their weapons and moved into San Salvador. By mid- 1985 
the FMLN had adapted to the army's new tactics and capabilities 
by breaking down its large guerrilla columns into smaller squads 
assigned to ambush and sabotage government targets. By late 
December 1985, the number of guerrillas dropped to between 5,000 
and 7,000, of which at least 2,000 remained active in the rural areas. 

The FMLN also reverted to classic guerrilla tactics and increased 
its use of land mines, which it called "popular armament." In 
mid- 1985 the FMLN, in addition to kidnapping or assassinating 
numerous military and government officials, began kidnapping and 
assassinating mayors and burning their offices. It also targeted 
United States military personnel for assassination. In June 1985, 
PRTC terrorists assassinated four off-duty United States embassy 
Marine guards at a sidewalk cafe in San Salvador in a massacre 
that also left nine civilians, including two United States business- 
men, dead and fifteen others wounded. According to the FMLN 
high command, the chief purpose of its raid on the army's basic 
training center in eastern La Union Department in October 1985 
was to kill or capture United States soldiers serving there. 

Insurgent Organization 

Although the FMLN continued to suffer from long-standing sec- 
tarian rivalries, the FMLN groups — with Cuban training and other 
assistance — reorganized during 1983. The FMLN divided the coun- 
try into five war fronts: the Feliciano Amo Western Front (cover- 
ing Ahuachapan, La Libertad, Santa Ana, and Sonsonate 
departments), Modesto Ramirez Central Front (including Cuscat- 
lan, San Salvador, and parts of Cabanas and La Paz departments), 


Damage to Fourth Infantry Brigade compound from guerrilla attack, 
El Paraiso, Chalatenango Department, December 1983 
Courtesy United States Department of Defense 

Anastasio Aquino Paracentral Front (comprising parts of Cabanas 
and La Paz departments, as well as San Vicente Department), Fran- 
cisco Sanchez Eastern Front (covering La Union, Morazan, San 
Miguel, and Usulutan departments), and Apolinario Serrano 
Northern Front (consisting of Chalatenango Department). 

The individual FMLN groups each claimed traditional areas of 
operation and influence within the five FMLN fronts and were 
organized on Marxist-Leninist structures. The ERP, which had 
a Marxist-Leninist political front, the Party of the Salvadoran 
Revolution (Partido de la Revolucion Salvadorefia — PRS), was a 
particularly well- organized group. Directed by its nine-member gen- 
eral command, the ERP's principal force was the Rafael Arce 
Zablah Brigade (Brigada Rafael Arce Zablah — BRAZ), which oper- 
ated on the Francisco Sanchez Eastern Front. The BRAZ was sub- 
divided into two groups consisting of several battalions. The FPL 
operated on the northern, central, and western fronts. Directed 
by a general command, composed of more than twenty-five 
commanders, the FPL's leadership structure also included a revolu- 
tionary council, a central committee, and a political commis- 
sion. The FPL's complex military structure was also collectively 
known as the Popular Army of Liberation (Ejercito Popular de 
Liberacion — EPL). Virtually indistinguishable from the FPL, the 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

EPL was composed of elite "vanguard units," less skilled "guer- 
rilla columns," and the "urban front" commando groups in the 

Based primarily in the area of Guazapa Volcano, the FARN 
served as the military apparatus of the National Resistance 
(Resistencia Nacional — RN) party, a Marxist-Leninist political 
front whose secretary general and second in command constituted 
the FARN's general military command. The PRTC operated with 
other FMLN groups through its armed wing, the Revolutionary 
Armed Forces of Popular Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas Revolu- 
cionarias de Liberacion Popular — FARLP). In addition to its rural 
forces, the PRTC had a San Salvador-based terrorist apparatus 
called the Mardoqueo Cruz Urban Guerrilla Commando. The 
PCES military wing, the FAL, also reportedly was based at 
Guazapa Volcano, but its principal rural guerrilla force operated 
mainly in northern and central El Salvador. Although Handal com- 
manded the FAL, it also had an operational commander. 

In the late 1980s, the rebels were still operating in small units, 
avoiding confrontations with the army except on their own terms, 
and emphasizing hit-and-run attacks mainly against economic tar- 
gets. In 1986 FMLN attacks on the economy increased by 29 per- 
cent. The eastern region of El Salvador, the FMLN's main area 
of operations, suffered the brunt of the sabotage campaign. The 
FMLN facilitated its operations in El Salvador by using as sanc- 
tuaries demilitarized border zones (bolsones), such as north of the 
Torola-Jocoaitique line in northern Morazan Department. 

One of the FMLN's prime objectives was to sabotage the coun- 
try's economic infrastructure by attacking systematically such tar- 
gets as bridges, the power grid, and communications equipment. 
Guerrilla forces also disrupted the transportation system by paralyz- 
ing road traffic every month or two. The intimidation of private 
investors through threats, "war taxes," kidnapping, and armed 
attacks on their business premises was another aspect of this stra- 
tegy, as was the infiltration of labor unions in an effort to promote 
unrest. Guerrilla sabotage and indirect economic losses caused by 
the war amounted to nearly US$2 billion during 1979-88, more 
than the total amount of United States economic assistance provided 
the country during the same period. Salvadoran officials reported 
that 2,477 attacks on the country's energy grid in the 1980-87 period 
destroyed 654 primary and secondary distribution lines, costing 
US$51 million to repair. 

Peace Talks 

In 1983 the interim government, led by Magana, created a Peace 
Commission and began meeting privately with FMLN-FDR 


National Security 

representatives. Continued military stalemate led to direct public 
talks for the first time between the government and the FMLN- 
FDR in the town of La Palma on October 15, 1984. Duarte and 
Vides, representing the government at the talks, offered an am- 
nesty to any guerrillas who laid down their arms and urged them 
to participate in the elections that year. The two parties reached 
some agreements on the conduct of the war and the evacuation 
of guerrilla prisoners, but they made no progress toward achiev- 
ing a negotiated solution to the insurgency. The FMLN-FDR 
restated its longstanding demands. It wanted a power-sharing ar- 
rangement whereby a certain number of its representatives would 
be included in an interim government to be established before the 
holding of elections, and it wanted to maintain its own armed forces 
after the cessation of active hostilities. The guerrilla representa- 
tives insisted that these were nonnegotiable elements of their po- 

The Duarte government lost the initiative in the war in part as 
a result of the FMLN's kidnapping in September 1985 of the presi- 
dent's daughter, Ines Guadalupe Duarte Duran, an action that to- 
tally preoccupied Duarte and virtually paralyzed his government 
for almost two months. Duarte lost considerable influence and credi- 
bility with the military and the public by ignoring El Salvador's 
policy against complying with the demands of kidnappers and 
releasing 126 FMLN prisoners in exchange for his daughter and 
33 municipal officials (mainly mayors) previously taken hostage 
by the guerrillas. The agreement did not include a monetary ran- 
som. Although the FMLN pledged as part of the agreement not 
to kidnap relatives of government officials, it verbally reneged on 
this promise a few months later. 

The FMLN-FDR took advantage of Duarte 's political weak- 
ness by rejecting his amnesty offer at the second meeting, held at 
Ayagualo, on November 30, 1985. The rebels countered with a 
tough three-phase peace plan calling for the creation of a new, tran- 
sitional government of national consensus, with FMLN-FDR par- 
ticipation, that would hold national elections. Bitter over his 
daughter's kidnapping, Duarte postponed the scheduled third round 
of talks and rejected the FMLN proposal as contrary to the 1983 

The FMLN boycotted the session scheduled for September 1 986 
in the Salvadoran town of Sesori after the government refused an 
FMLN demand that army troops be cleared out of a 650-square- 
kilometer area around the meeting place. Between the breakdown 
of the Sesori dialogue and the signing of the Central American Peace 
Agreement in August 1987, no formal talks were held for the 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

purpose of achieving a negotiated solution between the FMLN and 
the government. 

Some observers characterized the FMLN-FDR's proposals made 
in May 1987 as a formula for the "Cubanization" of El Salvador, 
citing the rebels' demands for nonalignment; formation of an ex- 
traconstitutional transitional government, without elections, to in- 
clude members of the FMLN-FDR; maintenance of guerrilla 
armed forces until the government was reorganized; imposition of 
a socialist economy; dismantling of the police forces; and non- 
intervention of foreign governments. Duarte rejected the proposal 
in a May 1987 speech, calling it a formula to weaken the govern- 
ment militarily and politically. 

There was no further movement on dialogue until the five Cen- 
tral American presidents, at the initiative of Costa Rican presi- 
dent Oscar Arias Sanchez, met in Guatemala in early August 1987 
and signed the Central American Peace Agreement, charting a 
peaceful resolution of regional conflicts through national reconcili- 
ation, cease-fires, democratization, and free elections (see The Crisis 
in Central America, ch. 4). Although the so-called Arias plan did 
not require dialogue with armed insurgent groups unless they ac- 
cepted amnesty, the Duarte government called on the FMLN- 
FDR leaders to accept the peace plan as the framework for negoti- 
ations and dialogue. Duarte also persuaded the military High Com- 
mand to endorse the Central American peace document, although 
several officers voiced doubts about it. Guided by the agreement, 
Duarte reopened a dialogue with the guerrillas, promulgated a 
broad amnesty, ordered the military to undertake a unilateral cease- 
fire after the FMLN broke off cease-fire talks, and permitted the 
self-exiled FDR leaders — Ruben Zamora Rivas and Ungo — to 
return to El Salvador. 

In early October 1987, two days of talks were held between 
government and rebel leaders. The representatives — who included 
President Duarte, four FMLN military commanders, and four FDR 
leaders — agreed to establish two commissions that would include 
government and rebel leaders, one commission responsible for 
negotiating a cease-fire, the other for addressing other measures 
of the peace plan. A second round of talks, held in Caracas on 
October 22, became deadlocked, with the participants merely pledg- 
ing to continue the dialogue in Mexico City. The FMLN subse- 
quently suspended the Mexico City dialogue, however, and 
unilateral cease-fires in November 1987 were unsuccessful. The 
guerrillas continued to demand a power- sharing arrangement and 
the maintenance of their own military force as conditions for a 
settlement. Rejecting a cease-fire, the FMLN-FDR proposed a 


National Security 

"moratorium" on arms deliveries, an end to recruitment on both 
sides, and the withdrawal of foreign military advisers. According 
to United States press reports, however, the FMLN agreed at top- 
level FMLN-FDR meetings held in Managua in July 1988 not 
to oppose the FDR's participation in the 1989 presidential elec- 
tions. The FMLN escalated its military and terrorist activities in 
the San Salvador area in the fall of 1988 and commenced a policy 
of seeking to cause civilian casualties by these actions. The FMLN 
also embarked on a campaign to assassinate democratically elected 
mayors. The guerrillas executed seven serving mayors, one former 
mayor, and one government official between March and Novem- 
ber 1988. They threatened to kill more than twenty others. 

Counterinsurgency Tactics 

Initially, the army used conventional warfare tactics against the 
insurgents. It typically would rely on massive frontal assaults or 
sweeps against guerrilla positions. These operations were less risky 
than the small-unit tactics urged by United States advisers but were 
ineffective against the more mobile guerrilla units, which easily 
evaded the army forces. At nightfall, the army invariably returned 
to the safety of its garrisons instead of pursuing the insurgents. 
Although army troops sometimes retook towns previously held by 
guerrillas, the army usually withdrew after a short stay, and FMLN 
forces returned. 

United States military assistance helped to transform the army 
into a more capable force. During the second part of 1982, the Sal- 
vadoran government began deploying United States-trained and 
United States-equipped "hunter" counterinsurgency battalions, 
consisting of 220 members. "Hunter" tactics called for operations 
in highly mobile small units, carrying out night patrolling and night 
attacks in place of the army's ineffective massed assaults. 

The army was slow to adopt these new tactics and largely con- 
tinued to conduct the war in a lackadaisical manner. It responded 
to attacks by much larger FMLN units in 1983 by abandoning the 
United States-inspired concept of the "hunter" battalions. It re- 
placed them with the 580-man Antiterrorist Infantry Battalions 
(Batallones de Infanteria Antiterrorista — BIAT) and 390-man 
Countersubversion Infantry Battalions (Batallones de Infanteria 
para Contrasub version — BIC). Again, the guerrillas easily evaded 
these slow-moving forces in the field. 

Badly needed organizational changes resulted from the May 1983 
replacement of General Garcia by Vides. Within weeks, Vides's 
new chief of staff of the armed forces, Colonel Blandon, imple- 
mented United States-style organization and tactics in key combat 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

units, adopting new counterinsurgency objectives of denying the 
guerrillas sanctuary, movement, and supplies. He also announced 
a 20 percent increase in troop strength for 1984 to bring the army's 
force level to 30,000. Blandon adopted more aggressive actions using 
small, air-mobile combat units. These moves turned the war in 
the army's favor, but subsequent adjustments by the FMLN frus- 
trated government forces and again stalemated the conflict. 

In mid- 1983 the army also launched a United States-designed 
and United States-funded pacification program consisting of mili- 
tary sweeps followed by civic action programs designed to reduce 
political violence. The army plan was to coordinate military oper- 
ations in two eastern departments with government- sponsored eco- 
nomic development of the area and to establish local civil defense 
and social improvement programs. The persistent army presence, 
it was thought, would keep the guerrillas on the move and isolate 
them from the civilian population. The first phase of the program, 
called Operation Well-Being (Operation Bienestar), focused on San 
Vicente and Usulutan departments, where guerrilla forces were 
particularly active. The program called for the organization of 
paramilitary networks and their integration into the counterinsur- 
gency operations of the regular army and security forces. The army 
stationed 4,000 troops in central San Vicente Department with the 
objectives of forcing guerrilla units out of their bases in the north- 
ern sector and then establishing a buffer zone defended mainly by 
civil defense units. 

In September 1984, Colonel Ochoa, then commander of the 
Fourth Infantry Brigade in Chalatenango Department, attempted 
a similar campaign to clear guerrillas from the two northern depart- 
ments of Chalatenango and Cabanas. Villagers, however, believ- 
ing their safety depended on remaining neutral, were uncooperative. 
By the end of 1985, the campaign had failed, largely because the 
guerrilla forces easily evaded the army troops and then frustrated 
implementation of civic action programs. 

Frustrated at its failure to defeat the FMLN after five years of 
fighting, the army reportedly turned increasingly to the forced relo- 
cation of the rebels' civilian supporters, particularly in the Guazapa 
Volcano area some twenty kilometers north of San Salvador, in 
northern Chalatenango Department, and in the eastern depart- 
ments. The Ministry of Interior's National Commission to Assist 
the Displaced Persons of El Salvador (Comision Nacional de Asisten- 
cia a los Desplazadas de El Salvador — Conades) reported in July 
1985 that 412,000 of El Salvador's population of about 5 million 
had been displaced from their homes by the war since 1981. 
According to some estimates, an additional 500,000 had left the 


Army civic action program, El Paisnal, San Salvador Department 

Courtesy Ana B. Monies 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

country altogether. Although army officers suggested that the 
government's main concern was to deprive the rebels of political 
and logistical support, Duarte claimed that the new policy was 
designed to ensure the safety of civilians. 

In October 1986, Blandon introduced a second United States- 
financed pacification plan, United to Rebuild (Unidos para Recon- 
struir). In addition to giving the military control over repopula- 
tion and reconstruction programs nationwide, it contained a public 
relations element that gave the military the potential to build a popu- 
lar support base of its own. Although intended to reassert army 
control and begin economic recuperation in war-torn areas, it too 
failed as a result of a lack of resources, incompetence in its im- 
plementation, and insufficient cooperation from the population. 

By mid- 1988, according to some observers, the army had be- 
come burdened by conventional tactics, mediocre officers, over- 
reliance on air power, and the need to defend against economic 
sabotage. For example, fully a third of the government's troops 
were tied down guarding bridges, electrical plants, and other eco- 
nomic targets. 

That fall Colonel Ponce launched a new counterinsurgency cam- 
paign in rebel territory. Designed without the assistance of United 
States military advisers, it relied heavily on night patrols by fifteen- 
man groups of highly trained commandos. It also took a new ap- 
proach to civic action efforts. Instead of merely handing out sup- 
plies to villagers, the new campaign, called United to Work (Unidos 
para Trabajar), put greater emphasis on forcibly evicting left-wing 
community groups and replacing them with new organizations 
responsible for allocating army donations of food and medicine. 
The army imposed two main conditions for this aid: that the vil- 
lage establish a civil defense unit and that it make its young men 
available for conscription. The army's civic action efforts were not 
reassuring, however, to more than 7,000 Salvadoran refugees who 
had returned from Honduran camps since the previous October to 
abandoned villages in northern El Salvador. Suspicious of the return- 
ing Salvadorans, the army prevented church and other outside relief 
workers from delivering supplies to them. 

Crime and Punishment 
The Criminal Justice System 

Judicial Ineffectiveness 

El Salvador's criminal justice system, which is derived from 
nineteenth-century Spanish jurisprudence, extends customary 
procedural safeguards to accused persons. Under Article 12 of the 
1983 Constitution, any person accused of a crime shall be presumed 


National Security 

innocent until proven guilty in conformance with the law and in 
a public trial. A person who is detained must be immediately 
informed of his or her rights, including the right to an attorney, 
and the reasons for the detention. Forced confession is prohibited. 
Article 13 prohibits any governmental organ, authority, or func- 
tionary from dictating orders for the unlawful arrest or imprison- 
ment of any individual. Furthermore, arrest orders must always 
be in writing. The Constitution also provides that the periods for 
administrative or investigative detention not exceed seventy-two 
hours, during which time the detainee's case must be assigned to 
a competent judge. The United States Department of State reported 
that this requirement was followed in the great majority of cases 
in 1987. Americas Watch, however, charged in late 1987 that both 
the security forces and the army had violated this constitutional 

In the event of war, invasion, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe, 
epidemic, or other general calamity, the constitutional guarantees 
provided by Articles 12 and 13 may be suspended under Article 
29 for a period not to exceed thirty days if at least three-fourths 
of the deputies in the Legislative Assembly vote to do so (see The 
Constitution of 1983, ch. 4). For example, the 1986 state of siege 
allowed fifteen days of incommunicado detention for prisoners de- 
tained for political reasons. 

The constitutional guarantees notwithstanding, El Salvador's 
criminal judicial system historically has been weak. For years the 
courts acquitted the few politically powerful individuals who were 
accused of crimes and held dissidents and poor prisoners in jail 
without trial indefinitely. The great majority of offenders nation- 
wide traditionally were laborers, agricultural workers, unemployed 
individuals, and skilled workers. Well-to-do professional and tech- 
nical personnel were rarely charged with, much less prosecuted for, 
crimes. The acquittal rate in court trials also traditionally was high, 
not only in the lower tribunals but even in the courts of first in- 
stance, which try felonies. 

A Department of State study noted that the criminal justice sys- 
tem was characterized by consistent underfunding; unwieldy laws 
of evidence that created an overreliance on confessions to obtain 
convictions; the intimidation of judges, prosecutors, jurors, and 
witnesses; a lack of modern investigative and forensic equipment 
and expertise; judges and court officers who worked only half-days; 
and antiquated and wholly inadequate administrative systems and 
office equipment. Political violence in the 1970s and 1980s further 
crippled the judicial system. Virtually no attempt was made to 
investigate the many thousands of murders perpetrated between 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

1979 and 1983 or to punish those responsible. By 1985 the homi- 
cide conviction rate, which in 1978 was 25 percent, had dropped 
to 13 percent. It was as low as 4 percent in rural areas by 1988. 
The number of homicide cases brought before the courts also 
declined steadily in the 1980s. Although the reported homicide rate 
reached a record high of 6,145 in 1980, only 812 cases were brought 
to trial, and only 109 convictions were obtained. 

According to the Ministry of Justice, only about 10 percent of 
those in prison had been sentenced; the rest were detained suspects 
awaiting trial. Investigations of crimes dragged on long past the 
legal time limits, and the accused often spent years in prison await- 
ing trial. 

Because the courts could not be relied on to prosecute the per- 
petrators of crimes nor to provide those arrested with speedy and 
fair trials, citizens had little confidence in obtaining redress of 
grievances through the courts. In the absence of a functional crimi- 
nal justice system, acts of vengeance and vigilantism were ram- 
pant. Even in civil cases, attorneys rarely risked confronting 
powerful interests or wealthy families for fear of physical retribution. 

The judiciary also suffered from the political polarization and 
extremism that gripped the country during the 1980s. Unidenti- 
fied terrorists killed a military court judge in May 1988. That June 
FMLN terrorists assassinated an alternate justice of the peace and 
threatened two prosecuting attorneys. Right-wing obstructionists 
in the courts and the Salvadoran attorney general's office also 
repeatedly delayed highly publicized cases such as the murder of 
Archbishop Romero. The Romero case was shelved in December 
1984 by judicial authorities claiming insufficient evidence. In August 
1985, however, a Salvadoran court ordered the reopening of an 
investigation into the archbishop's murder. Duarte publicly pre- 
sented new evidence in December 1987 that he said strongly im- 
plicated D'Aubuisson. Nevertheless, the government announced 
in December 1988 that the Romero killing would remain unresolved 
because of a Supreme Court ruling that the testimony of a key wit- 
ness was invalid. 

Some military personnel reportedly also resorted to kidnapping 
to intimidate lawyers and witnesses. A lawyer assigned to defend 
the five Salvadoran members of the GN accused of murdering the 
United States churchwomen said he was forced to take part in a 
"conspiracy" aimed at preventing higher ranking military officers 
from being implicated in the case. After refusing to cooperate, the 
lawyer charged that he was abducted by members of the GN, tor- 
tured, and imprisoned at GN headquarters. 


National Security 

Prior to January 1987, suspected FMLN members were charged 
with violations of Articles 373 to 411 of the Penal Code (the arti- 
cles dealing with crimes against the state) but were processed under 
Decree 50, a special state-of-emergency law that established a mili- 
tary court system to try such cases. As a result of the Legislative 
Assembly's January 1987 decision not to renew the state of emer- 
gency, all terrorism- related cases had to be tried under normal Sal- 
vadoran law. New FMLN suspects were therefore remanded to 
the regular courts, although the previous cases continued to be tried 
under Decree 50 provisions. By mid- 198 7 the Decree 50 courts had 
cleared more than half of their backlog of pending cases, acquit- 
ting some defendants, convicting some, and sending others to the 
regular courts for trial for common crimes. Judges in the regular 
courts tended to follow the Penal Code strictly and often released 
suspects despite evidence of their membership in the FMLN. The 
continuous threat of FMLN violence was a principal reason that 
court personnel avoided making decisions that might draw 

In the late 1980s, several developments suggested that the prin- 
ciple of military accountability to the judicial system was slowly 
being established. First, two military officers were jailed in 1987 
for their involvement with a kidnap- for- profit ring. In addition, 
an army lieutenant was arrested and turned over to the courts in 
connection with the murders of three civilians in August 1987; and 
third, a jury in May 1987 determined that four policemen were 
guilty of the January 1983 murders of two students. As of late 1988, 
however, the courts had never convicted any military officer of a 

Two high-profile cases involving United States citizens were in- 
cluded under the 1987 amnesty program. In the first case, the Mili- 
tary Court of First Instance ruled in November 1987 that three 
PRTC terrorists jailed for killing four United States Marines, two 
American technicians, and seven Latin Americans in the 1985 
sidewalk-cafe attack were covered by the amnesty decreed by Duarte 
because theirs was a "political" crime with a military objective. 
None of the three PRTC terrorists was ever tried for the crimes. 
The Military Appeals Court upheld the decision on January 26, 
1988. That February, however, the United States attorney gen- 
eral, supported by the United States embassy, appealed to Duarte 
to reverse the court's decision in his capacity as commander in chief 
of the armed forces. In a decision made public on April 1 1 , 1988, 
Duarte, knowing that United States aid to El Salvador was at stake, 
ruled that the three men charged in the killings could not be freed 
under the amnesty law. Duarte argued that the four United States 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Marines who were slain had diplomatic status as provided by the 
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against 
Internationally Protected Persons, which El Salvador ratified in 

In the second case, a Salvadoran chamber of second instance 
(appeals court) decided in December 1987 to free the two convicted 
killers of the three agrarian reform officials. As a result, the case 
then pending against former Lieutenant Roberto I. Lopez Sibrian, 
who had ordered the killings, was expected to be closed, although 
he remained in jail in late 1988. A similar attempt to secure the 
release of three of the five national guardsmen sentenced to thirty- 
year terms in 1984 for the killing of four United States church- 
women in 1980 was unsuccessful. 

Judicial Reform 

With the enactment of enabling legislation by the Legislative 
Assembly in the summer of 1985, the Salvadoran government 
initiated a judicial reform effort in collaboration with AID, which 
provided US$9.2 million in assistance. The program called for in- 
stitutionalizing due process and the rule of law, including the speedy 
and fair trial of persons accused of crimes. Another important 
objective was to bring to justice the perpetrators of particularly 
notorious crimes, such as political assassinations. 

The Salvadoran government's reform effort included establish- 
ing a study commission that drafted changes in the military justice 
and penal codes and proposed steps to reduce the prison popula- 
tion, create a judicial career system, and implement merit selec- 
tion of judges. Progress in reforming the judicial institution 
continued to be slow, however, and encountered many problems 
in 1988. Under the judicial administration and training portion 
of the program, the government established four new courts in order 
to reduce case backlogs, completed a management assessment of 
the judiciary, inaugurated three new law libraries, and trained 
judicial personnel both locally and abroad. The government also 
drafted legislation aimed at improving the administrative efficiency 
of the judiciary. 

According to the Department of State, the judicial reform pro- 
gram comprised a legal revisory commission, a judicial protection 
unit, a commission for investigations, and a judicial training pro- 
gram. The first component was created by decree in June 1985 
and called the Revisory Commission for Salvadoran Legislation. 
It consisted of ten presidential appointees representing three minis- 
tries, the Supreme Court, law faculties, and attorney associations. 
Its purpose was to coordinate the overall judicial reform effort, to 


National Security 

study the Sal vadoran judicial system, and to develop the resulting 
draft legislation for the Legislative Assembly. The commission 
focused its efforts initially on revising procedures and laws to im- 
prove such facets of the existing criminal law system as rules of evi- 
dence and procedures, the jury system, and legal defense and 
detention. The commission also planned to explore the possibility 
of a new Decree 50-style code to prosecute crimes against the govern- 
ment. In addition, it envisioned longer term and costlier reforms 
such as merit selection of judges and a judicial career service. 

The second component, the Judical Protection Unit (Unidad de 
Proteccion Judicial — UPJ), was initiated in 1984 (formally created 
by decree in September 1985) to provide security forjudges, jurors, 
prosecutors, and witnesses in politically controversial criminal cases. 
In the UPJ's first assignments, a group of sixty prison guards who 
had received training in the United States provided security for 
participants in the churchwomen's murder trial in the summer of 
1984 and the Sheraton case trial in February 1986. The initial con- 
cept of the unit was found unworkable, however, owing to the high 
costs of maintaining a sufficiently large and well-trained force. In 
early 1988, the government was considering a new proposal to es- 
tablish the unit as a professional risk-assessment team that would 
plan and organize protection in appropriate cases; protective per- 
sonnel would then be drawn from law enforcement units or pri- 
vate contractors. 

The third component, the Investigations Commission (Comi- 
sion para Investigaciones — CI), was created by decree in July 1985 
to develop criminal investigation capabilities, supported by foren- 
sic laboratories. The members of this civilian-controlled agency were 
appointed by the president. Chaired by the minister of justice, it 
included the vice minister of interior and a representative of the 
president. Reporting to the commission was an executive-branch 
office responsible for managing the twenty-seven-member Special 
Investigative Unit, the eight-member Forensic Unit, and a legal 
and administrative support unit. The SIU was formed in 1985 to 
investigate politically important crimes and consisted of Salvadoran 
soldiers or officials trained by the United States Federal Bureau 
of Investigation (FBI). Required by law to be drawn from the secu- 
rity forces, SIU members remained salaried employees of those 
forces. The Forensic Unit was inaugurated in mid- 198 7 and by 
early 1988 was approaching full operational capacity. The SIU and 
the Forensic Unit, which were almost fully equipped and trained, 
had made valuable contributions to the investigations of several 
key cases, including the Romero assassination. The investigative 
and forensic expertise of the two units was unprecedented in El 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Salvador and represented a significant step in the professionaliza- 
tion of the country's criminal justice system. 

The fourth component, the Judicial Training Program, was de- 
signed to improve the court system's administrative management, 
human resources, and physical facilities. Under this project, the 
government established two new courts to deal with a serious back- 
log of cases, assessed court equipment needs, set up a new ad- 
ministrative unit for the court system to release judges from 
administrative tasks, and provided short-term training forjudges 
and justices of the peace. 

Penal and Procedural Codes 

El Salvador's penal and procedural codes are derived from the 
established precedents of nineteenth-century Spanish jurisprudence 
and therefore follow the standard Latin American pattern. Although 
adopted early in the twentieth century, both documents have been 
revised and updated periodically since then. Changes in the Penal 
Code of 1904 have been enacted through supplementary legisla- 
tion in the form of laws or decrees. El Salvador published a re- 
vised Penal Code in 1980. The code recognizes three distinct levels 
of offenses: felonies (delitos), misdemeanors (faltas), and infractions 
(contravenciones). The major categories of offenses distinguish among 
crimes against the state, crimes against persons or property, and 
threats to public order or safety. The Penal Code contains statutes 
prohibiting crimes against the state (Articles 373 to 411), subver- 
sion (Articles 376 to 380), treason (Article 381), terrorism (Arti- 
cles 400, 402, and 403), and other actions against the stability of 
the state. Crimes against persons or property cover the more con- 
ventional types of lawbreaking, including such offenses as homi- 
cide, assault, robbery, and fraud. The code takes into account 
possible extenuations and mitigating factors, such as self-defense. 
Ignorance of the law is not considered an excuse, however, and 
an unsuccessful attempted crime is punishable as though perpe- 
trated. Provisions allow for increased penalties in cases considered 
aggravated or grossly malicious. 

The code carefully defines penalties and their range in consider- 
able detail. Recognized punishments include fines, imprisonment, 
banishment, loss of civil rights, and death. Article 27 of the Con- 
stitution, however, allows the death penalty only in cases estab- 
lished by military laws during a state of international war. The 
code also prohibits imprisonment for debt, perpetual and dishonora- 
ble sentences, banishment, and all kinds of mental or physical tor- 
ment. Persons arrested for crimes against the state have the same 
legal protection as common criminals. Holding views opposed to 


National Security 

the government is not justification for arrest if the suspect does not 
advocate violence. Thus, the courts have held that membership 
in a front organization controlled by the insurgents is not by itself 
sufficient reason to hold an arrestee, although membership in a 
guerrilla group is. 

In the Salvadoran system, the courts become involved in the case 
almost immediately after the crime is committed because the judge 
oversees the investigation. If the police conduct a preliminary in- 
vestigation, they must submit the result to the courts within seventy- 
two hours. A justice of the peace handles minor crimes, but must 
forward major cases to a judge in a court of first instance within 
fifteen days. In cases involving death, a judge — usually a justice 
of the peace — goes to the scene of the crime and "recognizes" the 
death judicially; a medical examiner determines the cause of death. 
Arrest regulations require that the security forces register detainees 
and have them examined by a doctor or nurse on entry into police 
facilities. In insurgency- related cases, the authorities must promptly 
notify the family of the detainee or one of the human rights offices 
of the arrest. Mistreatment of prisoners is prohibited. The judge 
has seventy-two hours to determine if the evidence shows sufficient 
cause to hold the suspect and, if so, orders pretrial detention. After 
being turned over to the courts within seventy-two hours, an arrestee 
has the right to have a defense attorney present. 

The judge then begins the investigation (instruction) phase, 
actually conducting an in-depth investigation into the crime. The 
judge lists all of the elements of proof needed in order to deter- 
mine the guilt or innocence of the accused, then presides over each 
step of the investigation, issuing orders for witnesses to come to 
testify, visiting the scene of the crime, and ordering the police to 
perform forensic tests. While the judge is conducting the investi- 
gation, suspects accused of major crimes often remain in pretrial 
confinement, even though the investigation phase may take years 
to complete. 

Once the judge is satisfied that all the available information has 
been collected, the case may be dismissed or moved to the plenary 
phase of the trial, in which the judge, the defense, and the prose- 
cution prepare in writing their explanations of what the evidence 
shows. In murder cases, the final step of the plenary phase is the 
jury stage, in which the court clerk reads to a panel of five jurors 
a summary of the evidence and the statements by the judge, defense, 
and prosecution. Extensive procedural safeguards protecting the 
rights of the defendant and rigid rules of evidence under the civilian 
Penal Code severely limit the capabilities of the prosecution. This 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

is one reason why only about 15 percent of jury trials resulted in 
convictions in the mid-1980s. 

The accused has the right to file an amparo petition (a claim that 
a constitutional right has been violated) with the Supreme Court 
at any time during the process, as well as one habeas corpus peti- 
tion per phase of the process, starting from the time the accused 
becomes aware that the judge may issue a warrant for his or her 
arrest. When any petition is filed with the Supreme Court, all work 
on the case by the judge in the court of first instance ceases, and 
the entire case record is sent to the Supreme Court. The defense 
may also file appeals to the chambers of second instance at certain 
times in the process, and this too causes the judge in the court of 
first instance to cease work on the case. Finally, a type of appeal 
known as a cassation may be filed with the Supreme Court, also 
causing a halt in work on the case. Some time limits set down in 
the laws for consideration of these appeals have been followed 
rigorously, whereas others were ignored in the late 1980s. 

The Penal System 

The 1983 Constitution reaffirms that the penal system shall be 
designed to rehabilitate prisoners rather than solely to punish them. 
Article 28 prescribes that "the state shall organize the penitentiaries 
with the aim of reforming offenders, educating them, and teach- 
ing them industrious habits, seeking their rehabilitation and the 
prevention of crime." Overall direction and administration of the 
prison system is under the jurisdiction of the director general of 
penal and rehabilitation centers, under the minister of justice. 

As of the late 1980s, the prison system was composed of three 
national penitentiaries and at least thirty jails or preventive deten- 
tion facilities distributed throughout the country. The federal 
government operated the penitentiaries, located in Ahuachapan, 
Santa Ana, and San Vicente. The penitentiaries were the principal 
incarceration institutions, housing approximately half of the total 
prison population. Other than the penitentiaries, the prison sys- 
tem was loosely organized and received little centralized guidance 
or control. The government published few statistics on prisons. 
Local authorities supervised subordinate facilities and had few 
restrictions on their authority over methods and procedures. Each 
of the country's departments had at least one jail or detention fa- 
cility, with at least one in every departmental capital, although San 
Salvador had no facility for men. The two women's prisons were 
located at the town of Ilopango and Santa Ana; their inmates con- 
sisted mainly of prostitutes serving six-month terms. Prison facili- 
ties ranged from simple frame enclosures with little security and 


National Security 

few amenities to well-built, professionally planned buildings with 
good protection and adequate accommodations. 

In late 1988, El Salvador's security situation worsened. The 
FMLN, armed for the first time with some Soviet-made AK-47 
assault rifles, actually had brought the war to its bloodiest level 
in two or three years by launching another countrywide guerrilla 
and terrorist offensive, which once again included assassinating 
mayors. FMLN guerrillas inflicted disproportionately high casual- 
ties on the army in attacks on installations such as the Fourth In- 
fantry Brigade garrison at El Paraiso in Chalatenango Department 
and in a mortar barrage on a GN facility in San Salvador. Other 
FMLN actions in San Salvador included breaking criminals out 
of a jail and carrying out nightly terrorist bombings. FMLN lead- 
ers, including Villalobos, also opened an unusual diplomatic offen- 
sive by visiting several Latin American capitals. The army, for its 
part, was widely reported to have perpetrated a massacre, the first 
in three years, of ten peasants in the hamlet of San Sebastian in 
San Vicente Department, after accusing them of collaborating with 
the guerrillas. Under increasing criticism for its conduct of the war, 
the military underwent another orderly shakeup, with General 
Blandon being replaced as armed forces chief of staff by Colonel 
Ponce, a strong advocate of promoting economic development in 
the areas affected by the war. Under Ponce's command, the mili- 
tary was expected to become a more aggressive, offensive-minded 
force, but one placing greater emphasis on the "hearts and minds" 

As of mid- 1988, no book devoted exclusively to Salvadoran na- 
tional security topics was available. Relevant data can be derived 
mainly from disparate publications other than books, such as United 
States government or congressional reports, journal articles, news- 
letters, and newspaper reports, as well as Salvadoran legal docu- 
ments. A few books prove to be useful. A good source for historical 
information on the Salvadoran military establishment, despite its 
strongly anti-United States policy bias, is Michael McClintock's 
The American Connection. Adrian J. English' s Armed Forces of Latin 
America contains other useful historical and military data on the 
Salvadoran armed forces. More recent military data are provided 
in The Military Balance, an annual published by the International 
Institute for Strategic Studies. Informative 1988 reports prepared 
by the United States Department of State include The Situation in 
El Salvador. Discussions of El Salvador's human rights record are 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

found in the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights 
Practices for 1987 and publications of Americas Watch. The Com- 
mittee on Foreign Affairs of the United States Congress has pub- 
lished the transcripts of numerous hearings on El Salvador since 
1981, including Human Rights and Political Developments in El Sal- 
vador, 1987. (For further information and complete citations, see 




1 Metric Conversion Coefficients and Factors 

2 Population Trends, 1970-2000 

3 Causes of Death, 1983 

4 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at Constant 1962 Prices, 

Including and Excluding Coffee, 1981-86 

5 Economically Active Population by Age-Group, Selected Years 


6 Imports, Exports, and Current Account Balance, 1983-87 

7 Major Army Equipment, 1988 

8 Major Air Force Equipment, 1988 

9 Major Navy Equipment, 1988 



Table 1. Metric Conversion Coefficients and Factors 

When you know Multiply by To find 

Millimeters 0.04 inches 

Centimeters 0.39 inches 

Meters 3.3 feet 

Kilometers 0.62 miles 

Hectares (10,000 m 2 ) 2.47 acres 

Square kilometers 0.39 square miles 

Cubic meters 35.3 cubic feet 

Liters 0.26 gallons 

Kilograms 2.2 pounds 

Metric tons 0.98 long tons 

1.1 short tons 

2,204 pounds 

Degrees Celsius 9 degrees Fahrenheit 

(Centigrade) divide by 5 

and add 32 

Table 2. Population Trends, 1970-2000 

Population at Beginning 

of Period Crude Birth Crude Death 

Period (in thousands) Rate Rate 

1970-75 3,516 42.2 11.1 

1975-80 4,108 41.1 9.5 

1980-85 4,813 40.0 8.2 

1985-90 5,643 38.3 7.2 

1990-95 6,595 36.1 6.3 

1995-2000 7,654 33.5 5.6 

2000 8,803 

Source: Based on information from Robert W. Fox and Jerrold W. Huguet, Population and 
Urban Trends in Central America and Panama, Washington, 1977, 97. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Table 3. Causes of Death, 1983 

Cause of Death 

Number of 

Percentage of 
Total Deaths 

Rate per 100,000 

Perinatal conditions and diseases .... 



75.2 * 

Intestinal infections 




Homicides and other purposeful 




Pulmonary circulation and other forms 







Bronchitis, emphysema, and 




Cerebrovascular disease 





















n.a. = not available 

* Rate per 1,000 live births was 20.1. 

Source: Based on information from Pan American Health Organization, Health Conditions 
in the Americas, 1981-1984, Washington, 1986, 113. 














































































El Salvador: A Country Study 



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Table 6. Imports, Exports, and Current Account Balance, 1983-87 
(in millions of United States dollars) 





1987 * 












Current account balance . . 






* Estimate. 

Source: Based on information from Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report: Guatemala, 
El Salvador, Honduras, London, 1988, 3; and International Monetary Fund, Inter- 
national Financial Statistics, 41, No. 1, Washington, December 1988, 214-16. 

Table 7. Major Army Equipment, 1988 

Description Country of Origin Inventory 

AMS-13 (light) United States 12 

Armored personnel carriers 

M-3A1 -do- 5 

M-113 -do- 20 

AML-90 -do- 10 

UR-416 (armored repair vehicle) West Germany 8 

M-37B1 United States 66 

Field artillery 

105mm Howitzer -do- 50 

105mm M-101 -do- 30 

105mm M-102 -do- 6 

M-56 Yugoslavia 14 

155mm M-114 United States 6 


81mm -do- 300 

120mm UB-M52 -do- 60 

Recoilless rifles 

90mm M-67 -do- 400 


20mm M-55 -do- 24 

Source: Based on information from The Military Balance, 1988-1989, London, 1988, 196; 
and Jane's Defence Weekly [London], June 28, 1986, 1243, 1261. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Table 8. Major Air Force Equipment, 1988 


Country of Origin 


Fixed-wing aircraft 



United States 


Beech AT- 11 and T-34 





Cessna 337 0-2A Super Skymaster 


5 to 9 



Cessna A-37B Dragonfly light attack jet ... 





Dassault MD-450 Ouragan fighter- 



United States 


Fairchild-Hiller FH- 1 1 00 



Fouga CM- 170 Magister trainer/light 








United States 

Over 14 


Over 40 



Source: Based on information from The Military Balance, 1988-1989, London, 1988, 196; 
Military Technology, 10, No. 13, 1986, 97; and Jane's Defence Weekly [London], June 28, 
1986, 1261. 

Table 9. Major Navy Equipment, 1988 

Description Country of Origin Inventory 
Patrol craft 

31m GC-6 Camcraft United States 3 

20m Sewart -do- 1 

20m Swiftship -do- 1 

26m Swiftship (Libertad) -do- 1 

32m craft -do- 3 

Patrol launches 

13m coast guard utility -do- 2 

11m craft -do- 4 

11m Latana -do- 11 

8m river patrol -do- 6 

Source: Based on information from The Military Balance 1988-1989, London, 1988, 196; 
Military Technology, 10, No. 13, 1986, 97; and Jane's Defence Weekly [London], June 28, 
1986, 1261. 



Chapter 1 

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Lungo, Mario. El Salvador, 1981-1984. San Salvador: UCA Edi- 
tores, 1986. 

McClintock, Michael. The American Connection: State Terror and Popular 
Resistance in El Salvador, 1. London: Zed Books, 1985. 

"US Military Assistance to El Salvador: From Indirect 

to Direct Intervention," Race and Class, 26, No. 3, Winter 1985, 

McColm, R. Bruce. El Salvador. New York: Freedom House, 1982. 
"El Salvador's Guerrillas: Structure, Strategy, and . . . 

Success?" Freedom at Issue, No. 74, September-October 1983, 


McDonald, Ronald H. "El Salvador: The Politics of Revolution." 
Pages 528-44 in Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline (eds.), 
Latin American Politics and Development. Boulder, Colorado: West- 
view Press, 1979. 

Maitre, H. Joachim. "The Dying War in El Salvador." Pages 
121-35 in Walter F. Hahn (ed.), Central America and the Reagan 
Doctrine. Boston: United States Strategic Institute, 1987. 

. "The Subsiding War in El Salvador," Strategic Review, 13, 

Winter 1985, 22-29. 

Manwaring, Max G., and Court Prisk (eds.). El Salvador at War: 
An Oral History. Washington: National Defense University Press, 



The Military Balance, 1987-1988. London: International Institute 

for Strategic Studies, 1987. 
The Military Balance, 1988-1989. London: International Institute 

for Strategic Studies, 1988. 
Millett, Richard L. "The Politics of Violence: Guatemala and El 

Salvador," Current History, 80, No. 463, February 1981, 70-74, 


"Praetorians or Patriots." Pages 326-30 in Robert S. 

Leiken and Barry Rubin (eds.), The Central American Crisis Reader. 
New York: Summit Books, 1987. 

Pena Kampy, Alberto. El General Martinez: Un Patriarchal Presidente 
Dictador. Santa Anita, Mexico: Editorial Tip. Ramirez, 1976. 

Radu, Michael S. "Insurgent and Terrorist Groups in Latin Amer- 
ica." (Research paper, No. MDA908-83-C- 1980.) Philadelphia: 
Foreign Policy Research Institute, 1984. 

. "The Structure of the Salvadoran Left," Orbis, 28, Winter 

1985, 673-84. 

Sanford, Jonathan E. "Major Trends in U.S. Foreign Assistance 
to Central America, 1978-1986." (Library of Congress, Con- 
gressional Research Service, Report No. 86-88F.) Washington: 
April 8, 1986. 

Schulz, Donald E. "El Salvador: Revolution and Counterrevolu- 
tion in the Living Museum." Pages 189-268 in Donald E. Schulz 
and Douglas H. Graham (eds.), Revolution and Counterrevolution 
in Central America and the Caribbean. Boulder, Colorado: Westview 
Press, 1984. 

Sharpe, Kenneth E., and Martin Diskin. "Facing Facts in El Sal- 
vador: Reconciliation or War," World Policy Journal, 1, Spring 
1984, 517-47. 

Storrs, K. Larry. "El Salvador Aid: Congressional Action, 
1981-1986, on President Reagan's Requests for Economic and 
Military Assistance for El Salvador." (Library of Congress, Con- 
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ton: March 18, 1987. 

Storrs, K. Larry, and Mark P. Sullivan. "El Salvador: U.S. For- 
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ton: August 26, 1987. 

Thomas, Marilyn. Women of El Salvador. Philadelphia: Institute for 
the Study of Human Issues, 1986. 

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Salvador. Washington: GPO, 1981. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

. Congress. 97th, 1st Session. House of Representatives. 

Committee on Foreign Affairs. U.S. Policy Toward El Salvador. 
Washington: GPO, 1981. 

. Congress. 97th, 1st Session. Senate. Committee on For- 
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. Congress. 97th, 2d Session. Senate. Committee on For- 
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Washington: GPO, 1982. 

. Congress. 98th, 1st Session. House of Representatives. 

Committee on Foreign Affairs. Human Rights in El Salvador. 
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Congress. 98th, 1st Session. Senate. Committee on For- 
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Congress. 98th, 2d Session. Senate. Select Committee on 

Intelligence. Recent Political Violence in El Salvador. (98-659.) 
Washington: GPO, 1984. 

Congress. 99th, 1st Session. House of Representatives. 

Committee on Foreign Affairs. Developments in El Salvador. 
Washington: GPO, 1985. 

Congress. 99th, 2d Session. House of Representatives. 

Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Air War and Political Develop- 
ments in El Salvador. Washington: GPO, 1986. 

. Congress. 100th, 1st Session. House of Representatives. 

Committee on Foreign Affairs. Subcommittee on Human Rights 
and International Organizations and Subcommittee on Western 
Hemisphere Affairs. Human Rights and Political Development in El 
Salvador, 1987. Washington: GPO, 1988. 

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vador." Washington: April 1, 1988. 

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tion in El Salvador. (Special Report No. 144.) Washington: April 

. Department of State. Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin 

America and the Caribbean. "Victims of Guerrilla Land Mines 
in El Salvador," Latin America Dispatch, July 1987, 8. 

. Department of State and Department of Defense. 

"Nicaragua's Military Build-up and Support for Central Ameri- 
can Subversion." (Background paper.) Washington: GPO, 1984. 

Villalobos Hueso, Joaquin. Why Is the FMLN Fighting? San Sal- 
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Wilkie, James W., et al. Statistical Abstract of Latin America. Los 
Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1988. 

"World Air Forces," Flight International [London], 130, Novem- 
ber 29, 1986, 51-52. " 

Zaid, Gabriel. "Enemy Colleagues: A Reading of the Salvadoran 
Tragedy," Dissent, 29, Winter 1982, 13-40. 

(Various issues of the following publications were also used in 
the preparation of this chapter: Christian Science Monitor; Financial 
Times; Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Latin 
America; Jane's Defence Weekly [London]; Latinamerica Press; Latin 
American Monitor [London]; Latin American Weekly Report [London]; 
Latin America Regional Reports: Mexico and Central America [London]; 
Los Angeles Times; New York Times; Philadelphia Inquirer; Wall Street 
Journal; Washington Post; and Washington Times.) 



Central America — Region between Mexico and Panama includ- 
ing present-day Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, 
Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. 

Central American Common Market (CACM) — The CACM was 
established by the Organization of Central American States 
under the General Treaty of Central American Economic Inte- 
gration signed in Managua, Nicaragua, on December 15, 1960. 
Its members include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Hon- 
duras, and Nicaragua. Its original goals included the estab- 
lishment of a Central American regional free- trade area, a 
customs union, and the integration of the industrialization ef- 
forts of its member countries. Its efforts were curtailed follow- 
ing the 1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras, when 
the Hondurans reestablished import duties on CACM products. 
Despite the continued existence of the organization, most in- 
traregional economic relations have been handled on a bilateral 
basis since 1970. 

colon — El Salvador's monetary unit, divided into 100 centavos. 
The colon was pegged by the government at US$1 = c2.50 until 
November 1986, when it was officially devalued to US$1 = <p5 
as part of an overall economic austerity package. As of late 1988, 
there was no parallel exchange market, but dollars could be 
traded at a higher rate on the black market. 

Constituent Assembly — A deliberative body made up of elected 
delegates who are charged with the responsibility of drafting 
a new constitution and, in some instances, electing a new presi- 
dent. Traditionally, after it has completed its work a Consti- 
tuent Assembly reverts to a Legislative Assembly (traditional 
title of Salvadoran legislatures), which then serves as the coun- 
try's legislative body until the next scheduled elections. 

encomienda — A fiduciary grant of tribute collection rights over In- 
dians conferred by the Spanish crown on individual colonists, 
who in turn undertook to maintain order and propagate Chris- 

fiscal year (FY) — El Salvador's fiscal year is the calendar year. 
Where reference is made to United States aid appropriations 
or disbursements, the United States government's fiscal year 
is used, which runs from October 1 to September 30, with the 
date of reference drawn from the year in which the period ends. 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

For example, FY 1987 began on October 1, 1986, and ended 
on September 30, 1987. 
Gross domestic product (GDP) — A measure of the total value of 
goods and services produced by the domestic economy during 
a given period, usually one year. Obtained by adding the value 
contributed by each sector of the economy in the form of profits, 
compensation to employees, and depreciation (consumption of 
capital). Only domestic production is included, not income aris- 
ing from investments and possessions owned abroad, hence the 
use of the word domestic to distinguish GDP from gross national 
product (q.v.). 

gross national product (GNP) — The total market value of all final 
goods and services produced by an economy during a year. 
Obtained by adding the gross domestic product (q. v. ) and the 
income received from abroad by residents and subtracting pay- 
ments remitted abroad to nonresidents. 

import substitution industrialization — An economic development 
strategy that emphasizes the growth of domestic industries, often 
by import protection using tariff and nontariff measures. Pro- 
ponents favor the export of industrial goods over primary 

International Monetary Fund (IMF) — Established along with the 
World Bank (q.v.) in 1945, the IMF is a specialized agency 
affiliated with the United Nations that takes responsibility for 
stabilizing international exchange rates and payments. The 
main business of the IMF is the provision of loans to its mem- 
bers when they experience balance of payments difficulties. 
These loans often carry conditions that require substantial in- 
ternal economic adjustments by the recipients. 

Legislative Assembly — See Constituent Assembly. 

liberation theology — An activist movement led by Roman Catholic 
clergy who trace their inspiration to Vatican Council II (1965), 
where some church procedures were liberalized, and the Se- 
cond Latin American Bishops' Conference in Medellm, Colom- 
bia (1968), which endorsed greater direct efforts to improve 
the lot of the poor. Advocates of liberation theology — sometimes 
referred to as "liberationists" — work mainly through Chris- 
tian Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiasticas de Base — 
CEBs). Members of CEBs meet in small groups to reflect on 
scripture and discuss its meaning in their lives. They are in- 
troduced to a radical interpretation of the Bible, one that em- 
ploys Marxist terminology to analyze and condemn the wide 
disparities between the wealthy elite and the impoverished 
masses in most underdeveloped countries. This reflection often 



leads members to organize to improve their living standards 
through cooperatives and civic improvement projects. 
repartimiento — Derived from Spanish verb repartir (to divide up); a 
loosely regulated system under which Spanish colonial autho- 
rities were empowered to impose and regulate the labor of 

terms of trade — Number of units that must be given up for one 
unit of goods received by each party, e.g., nation, to a trans- 
action. The terms of trade are said to move in favor of the party 
that gives up fewer units of goods than it did previously for 
one unit of goods received, and against the party that gives 
up more units of goods for one unit of goods received. In in- 
ternational economics, the concept plays an important role in 
evaluating exchange relationships between nations. 

World Bank — Informal name used to designate a group of three 
affiliated international institutions: the International Bank for 
Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International 
Development Association (IDA), and the International Finance 
Corporation (IFC). The IBRD, established in 1945, has the 
primary purpose of providing loans to developing countries for 
productive projects. The IDA, a legally separate loan fund ad- 
ministered by the staff of the IBRD, was set up in 1960 to fur- 
nish credits to the poorest developing countries on much easier 
terms than those of conventional IBRD loans. The IFC, found- 
ed in 1956, supplements the activities of the IBRD through 
loans and assistance designed specifically to encourage the 
growth of productive private enterprises in less-developed coun- 
tries. The president and certain senior officers of the IBRD 
hold the same positions in the IFC . The three institutions are 
owned by the governments of the countries that subscribe their 
capital. To participate in the World Bank group, member states 
must first belong to the IMF (q.v.). 



Acajutla port, 130 

Act of Tegucigalpa (1984), 187 

AD. See Democratic Action (Action Demo- 

cratica: AD) 
Administration of Justice Program 

(United States), 232 
administrative departments, 29, 54-55, 

63; government of, 158-59 
Agrarian Code, 228 
agrarian reform {see also Land to the Tiller 

decree (1980); land reform), 26-27, 31, 

34, 37, 42, 64, 148, 149-50; opposition 

to, 174; phases of, 86-88; pressure for, 


agricultural sector: exports from, 6, 60; 
growth of, 105-6, 109, 118; production 
of, 69, 106, 107; workers in, 62-64 

Aguirre y Salinas, Osmm, 18 

Ahuachapan, 4, 16, 66, 67, 242, 258 

aircraft, military, 216, 223 

airfields, 130-31 

air force. See Salvadoran Air Force 
Alcoa, 138 

Allende Gossens, Salvador, 28, 32 

Alliance for Progress, 23 

Alvarado, Pedro de, 5 

Alvarez, Enrique, 40 

American Institute for Free Labor De- 
velopment (AIFLD), 42, 235 

Americas Watch, 251 

ammunition supplies (to guerrillas), 242 

amnesty, 156, 184, 233, 246 

Anastasio Aquino Paracentral Front, 243 

Andino, Mario, 34, 35 

anticlericalism, 10 

anticommunism, 17, 30 

Anti-Imperialist League, 15 

Antiterrorism Assistance Act (United 
States), 232 

Antiterrorist Infantry Battalions (Batal- 
lones de Infantena Antiterrorista: 
BIAT), 213, 247 

Apolinario Serrano Northern Front, 243 

Apopa, xxv 

Aquino, Anastasio, xx, 3, 11, 16 
Araujo, Arturo, 14, 15, 17, 200 
Araujo, Manuel Enrique, 12, 200, 227 
Arce, Manuel Jose, 199 

Arena. See Nationalist Republican Alli- 
ance (Alianza Republicana Nacional- 
ista: Arena) 

Argentina, 187, 226 

Arias Plan. See Central American Peace 
Agreement (1987) 

Arias Sanchez, Oscar, 188-89, 191, 246 

armed forces (see also military branch; of- 
ficer corps): active members of, 208; 
control by, 4; in FMLN 1989 offensive, 
xxvii; mission of, 208; personnel involved 
in murder, xxvii; rank structure of, 212; 
role in civic action projects of, 217; role 
in El Salvador for, 11, 23-24, 156-58 

Armed Forces Day, 199 

Armed Forces Military Training Center 
(Centro de Entrenamiento Militar de 
las Fuerzas Armadas: CEMFA), 219 

Armed Forces of Liberation (Fuerzas 
Armadas de Liberation: FAL), 239, 
240, 244 

Armed Forces of National Resistance 
(Fuerzas Armadas de Resistencia Na- 
cional: FARN), 238, 240, 244 

Arms and Services School (Escuela de 
Armas y Servicios: EAS), 219 

army. See Salvadoran Army 

Army Headquarters, 216 

Army Medical Service, 217 

assassinations, xxv, 12, 32, 33, 94, 235, 
242, 247, 252 

Assemblies of God, 95 

assimilation of Indian population, 66 

Association of Coffee Processors and 
Exporters (Asociacion de Beneficia- 
dores y Exportadores de Cafe: Abe- 
cafe), 173 

Association of Salvadoran Industrialists 
(Asociacion Salvadorena de Industri- 
als: ASI), 173 

associations of elite, 61 

Atlacatl, 5 

Attack Squadron, 216 

Authentic Revolutionary Party (Partido 

Autentico Revolucionario: PAR), 173 
Autonomous Executive Port Commission 

(Comision Ejecutiva Portuaria Auton- 

oma: CEPA), 117 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Avalos, Jose, 35 
Ayagualo, 245 
Aztecs, 4 

balance of payments {see also current 

account), 112, 134, 137 
Baloyra, Enrique, 32 
banking system, 112-13 
barriers to trade, 104 
Barrios, Gerardo, 144, 199 
Belgium, 133, 193 

Benavides, Guillermo Alfredo, xxvii- 

Betancur Cuartas, Belisario, 186 
birth rate, 57-58 

Blandon Mejfa, Adolfo Onecifero, 204, 

207, 247-48, 259 
Bolivar, Simon, 7 
bombings, 233 

BPR. See Revolutionary Popular Bloc 
(Bloque Popular Revolucionario: 
BPR), 31, 237, 239 

Brazil, 32, 187 

Britain, 193 

Broad Opposition Front (Nicaragua), 33 
budget, government, 105, 114 
Bush, George, 235 
Butters, Charles, 129 

Cabanas Department, 54, 63, 68, 76, 77, 

89, 90, 204, 242, 243, 248 
cacao, xix, 6 

CACM. See Central American Common 
Market (CACM) 

Calderon Sol, Armando, 166, 168 

campesinos, 3, 11, 14, 16, 89 

Canada: economic assistance from, 193; 
trade with, 134 

Canessa, Roberto, 20 

capital: flight of, 104, 113, 128, 133; foreign 
inflow of, 137-38; formation, 104, 111 

capital punishment, 150 

Captaincy General of Guatemala, 6, 7 

Captain General Gerardo Barrios Mili- 
tary Academy (Escuela Militar Capi- 
tan General Gerardo Barrios), xxvii, 
62, 168, 199, 218 

Caribbean Basin, 50 

Caribbean Plate, 50 

Caribbean Sea, 53 

Carpio, Salvador Cayetano ("Marcial"), 
30, 237, 241 

Carranza, Nicolas, 203, 220, 230, 235 

Carrera, Rafael, 9 

Carretera Litoral, 123, 130 

Carter (Jimmy) administration, 41, 42, 

182, 185, 223, 224, 231-32 
Casteneda Castro, Salvador, 18 
Castillo, Fabio, 21, 24 
Castro Ruz, Fidel, 20, 22, 24, 40, 238 
cattle grazing, 63 

CD. See Democratic Convergence (Con- 
vergencia Democratica: CD) 

cease-fire (provisional), 190 

CEBs. See Christian Base Communities 
(Comunidades Eclesiasticas de Base: 

Center for Fisheries Development (Cen- 

tro de Desarrollo Pesquero: Cende- 

pesca), 124-25 
Central America {see also United Provinces 

of Central America), xxviii, 4, 6, 49, 50; 

unification efforts for, 13-14 
Central American Air Transport (Trans- 

portes Aereos Centroamericanos: 

Taca), 130 
Central American Common Market 

(CACM), 25, 26, 79, 102, 104, 126-28, 

133, 134; development and decline of, 


Central American Defense Council (Con- 
sejo de Defensa Centroamericano: 
Condeca), 212 

Central American Federation (1823-41) 
{see also United Provinces of Central 
America), xix 

Central American Mission (CAM), 95 

Central American Peace Agreement 
(1987), xxviii, 143, 184, 188-90, 206, 
233, 236, 245, 246 

Central American Socialist Party, 15 

Central American University Jose Simeon 
Caiias (Universidad Centroamericana 
Jose Simeon Canas: UCA), xxvii, 34, 
67, 84-85, 165 

Central Electoral Council, 20, 28, 29, 
159-62, 166 

central plateau, 50, 51, 53 

Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador 
(Banco Central de Reserva de El Sal- 
vador: BCR): functions of, 111-12, 114 

CEPA. See Autonomous Executive Port 
Commission (Comision Ejecutiva Por- 
tuaria Autonoma: CEPA) 

Cerezo Arevalo, Marco Vinicio, 188, 190 



Cerron Grande Dam, 51 
Cerron Grande power plant, 133 
Chalatenango Department, 41, 54, 63, 

68, 76, 77, 88, 89, 90, 243, 248, 259 
Chavez Mena, Fidel, xxiii, 166-67 
Chavez y Gonzalez, Luis (archbishop), 

chemical industry, 127 
Chile, 22, 28, 32; military missions from, 

223; relations with, 200 
China, 193 

Christian Base Communities (Comuni- 
dades Eclesiasticas de Base: CEBs), 31, 

32, 93-95 

Christian democratic movement, 22, 27, 

33, 146 

Christian Democratic Party (Partido Dem- 
ocrata Cristiano: PDC) {see also Duarte 
Fuentes, Jose Napoleon), xxi, xxiii- 
xxiv, 4, 21-24, 25, 26-27, 28, 29, 35, 
36, 37, 38, 44, 92, 146-48, 162-63, 
168-69, 170, 173, 174, 177-78, 203; 
decline of, 185; opposition to, 174-75; 
role of, 163-67 

church women murders, 38, 42, 252, 255 

Cinco de Noviembre power plant, 133 

civic action program {see also literacy cam- 
paign; public health program; road sys- 
tem), 217-18, 248, 250 

Civic Guard (Guardia Ci'vica), 228 

Civil Chamber (of Supreme Court), 155 

civil conflict, xxi, xxii, 4, 49, 76, 101, 109, 
165, 176, 182 

Civil Defense (Defensa Civil: DC), 229 

civil defense law, 229 

Civil-Military Directorate (Directorio 
Ci'vico-Militar), 203 

Claramount Rozeville, Ernesto, 32 

climate, 51, 53 

coast guard functions, 216 

Cocos Plate, 50 

coffee, 51, 59 

coffee growers: power of, 10-11, 13 

Coffee Growers Association (Asociacion 
Cafetalera), 13 

coffee industry, xix, 9-11, 13, 14, 15, 60, 
63, 75, 79, 102, 104, 110, 120-21; ef- 
fect on economic structure of, 59-60, 
118; government intervention in, 107; 
production in, 106, 121-22 

coffee republic, 10 

Colombia, 92, 186 

colonos, 62, 63 

combat units, army, 213 

Command and General Staff School (Es- 

cuela de Mando y Estado Mayor 

General), 218-19, 223 
Commercial Farm Bank, 113 
Communist Party of El Salvador (Partido 

Comunista de El Salvador: PCES), 15, 

16, 28, 30, 31, 39, 228, 237-39, 240, 


communist theory, 15, 21-22, 30-31 

conscription, 209-10 

Constituent Assembly, 22, 43-44, 145- 

50, 159, 162, 164, 167; elections for, 


Constitution (1983) {see also agrarian re- 
form), xx, 87-88, 145-52, 174, 181, 
204, 208 

Constitutional Chamber (of Supreme 
Court), 155 

constitutions, 11-12, 144-45 

construction industry, 107, 109, 128-29 

Contadora process, 186-88 

Convention on the Prevention and 
Punishment of Crimes Against Inter- 
nationally Protected Persons, 254 

corn, 124 

corruption, 165 

Cortez, Hernan, 5 

Costa Rica, xxviii, 7, 13, 121, 181, 187 

cottage industries, 127 

cotton industry, 60, 63, 75, 79, 102, 104, 
107, 118, 121, 123 

counterinsurgency, xxvii, 30, 248; orien- 
tation of Orden, 30; policy of, 202, 203, 
206, 225; training for, 224 

Countersubversion Infantry Battalions 
(Batallones de Infanteria para Con- 
trasubversion: BIC), 247 

counterterrorism assistance, 232 

coups d'etat: in 1885, 12; in 1894, 12; in 
1898, 12; in 1931, 15, 200; in 1944, 18, 
201; in 1948, 18, 201; in 1960, 21; in 
1961, 21; in 1979, xx, xxi, 34, 40, 41, 
143, 197, 203, 224; attempt in 1972, 
29, 30 

Court of Accounts, 155 

courts of appeal, 156 

court system {see also military justice), 

Credit and Savings Bank, 113 
Criminal Chamber (of Supreme Court), 

criollos, 6 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Cristiani Burkard, Alfredo, xxiii-xxiv, 
xxvi, xxvii, xxviii, 168, 169, 185 

CRM. See Revolutionary Coordinator of 
the Masses (Coordinadora Revolu- 
cionaria de las Masas: CRM) 

Cuba, xxi, 20, 24, 31, 39; support for 
FMLN by, 232; support for guerrillas 
by, 4; training for PCES, 239 

Cuban Revolution, 21 

currency (colon): 84, 105; devaluation of, 
111, 165 

current account, 114, 133 

Cuscatlan, 5 

Cuscatlan Department, 55, 68, 88, 89, 
90, 242 

Customs Police (Policfa de Aduana), 230, 

Dada, Hector, 35, 36 

Dalton, Roque, 237-38 

D'Aubuisson Arrieta, Roberto, xxiii, 35, 
36, 38, 44-45, 147, 149, 162, 163, 
167-68, 170, 172-73, 185, 207, 
219-20, 234, 252 

death squads (see also White Hand (Mano 
Blanca); White Warriors Union (Union 
de Guerreros Blancos); Maximiliano 
Hernandez Martinez Brigade), 32, 35, 
36, 233; murders by, 235-36; origin 
and development of, 234; threats by, 
235; United States concern about, 

debt, external, 114, 134, 138-39 
Decree 50 courts, 253 
defense budget, 209 
Delvalle, Eric Arturo, 183 
demilitarized border zone, 244 
Democratic Action (Accion Democratica: 

AD), 146, 149, 163, 173 
Democratic Convergence (Convergencia 

Den.ocratica: CD), xx, xxiv, xxv, xxvi, 


Democratic Front (Frente Democratico), 

Democratic Workers' Confederation (Con- 
federation de Trabaj adores Democra- 
ticos: CTD), 176 

Denmark, 223 

Department of Investigations (Depar- 
tamento de Investigaciones), 230 

departments. See administrative depart- 

depression, world, 14, 60, 64 
deprivation, 3 

disease and illness, 3, 70-71 

DRU. See Unified Revolutionary Direc- 
torate (Direccion Revolucionaria 
Unificada: DRU) 

dry season (verano), 53 

Duarte, Alejandro, 165, 166 

Duarte Duran, Ines Guadalupe, 164, 172, 
205, 245 

Duarte Fuentes, Jose Napoleon, xxi-xxv, 
22-23, 25, 27-30, 32, 35-36, 43-44, 
157, 162, 164, 168, 170, 173, 189, 190, 
192-93, 203, 220, 252, 245-46, 253-54; 
administration of, xxii-xxiii, 107-9, 138, 
164-67, 172, 174-77, 180, 183-87, 204- 
8, 230, 236; pact with UPD, 175-76 

Duefias, Francisco, 199 

earthquake (1986), 129, 134, 193 

earthquake activity, 50, 82 

economic assistance from United States, 
22-23, 41, 43, 114-15, 120, 133, 
182-83, 224-25 

economic development, 101-2 

economic performance, 23, 59, 104-5, 
109, 118; recession (1928-31), 14-15 

economic stabilization program, 105, 110 

Economic Support Funds (ESF), 183 

education system (see also literacy cam- 
paign; military training), 73-74, 83-84 

El Cajon hydroelectric power plant, 133 

elections, xx, xxiii-xxiv, 15, 18, 20, 22, 
23, 24, 26, 27-29, 32, 43-44, 143, 164, 
167, 168, 169, 171-72, 173, 203 

Electoral Code, xxiv, 159, 162, 164 

electoral procedures, 159-63 

Electoral Register, 159 

electoral system, 23 

electricity industry, 102 

electric power plants, 133 

El Parafso, 259 

Embalse Cerron Grande (reservoir), 51 
EMC. See Joint General Staff (Estado 

Mayor Conjunto: EMC) 
emigration, 74, 76, 109 
employment (see also underemployment; 

unemployment), 109 
encomienda system, 6 
energy: consumption, 133; production, 

131, 133; purchase of, 133. 
ERP. See People's Revolutionary Army 



(Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo: 

Erzeta, Carlos, 12, 200 

Escalon, Pedro Jose, 12 

Esquipulas, 143, 184, 188, 189 

Esquipulas II. See Central American 
Peace Agreement (1987) 

ethnicity, 53-54 

Europe, Eastern, 239 

Europe, Western, 40, 192 

exchange rate: controls for, 111; unifica- 
tion of, 110, 111 

exchange rate policy (see also currency), 
107, 136; dual, 137 

executive branch, 152-53 

export duties, 113-14 

export promotion, 110, 136, 138 

exports: of agricultural commodities, 
xix-xx, 6-7, 9; of coffee, 9, 59, 102, 
106, 120, 134-35; of cotton, 123; offish 
products, 124; of manufactured 
products, 127-28; performance and de- 
pendence, 133-34; of sugar, 134 

fascism, 17 

FAPU. See United Popular Action Front 
(Frente de Accion Popular Unidad: 

Farabundo Marti National Liberation 
Front (Frente Farabundo Marti de 
Liberacion Nacional: FMLN) (see also 
guerrilla activity, FMLN), xx, xxiv, 
40-41, 44, 45, 84, 89-90, 129, 143, 146, 
157, 165, 171-72, 175-77, 180, 182, 
189-90, 191, 192, 198, 206, 224, 232; 
concessions and demands of (1989), 
xxiv-xxv; formation of, 240; guerrilla 
activity of, 236-47; offensive (1989) of, 
xxvi-xxviii; war fronts of, 242-43 

Farabundo Marti Popular Liberation 
Forces (Fuerzas Populares de Libera- 
cion Farabundo Marti: FPL), 30, 31 

farming, 63, 68 

FDR. See Revolutionary Democratic 
Front (Frente Democratico Revolu- 
cionario: FDR) 

Federation of Salvadoran Christian 
Peasants (Federacion de Campesinos 
Cristianos Salvadorefios: Feccas), 237 

Federation of Unions of the Construction 
Industry and Kindred Activities, 
Transportation, and Other Activities 

(Fesinconstrans), 176, 177-78 

Feliciano Amo Western Front, 242 

fertility rates, 57-58 

Fesinconstrans. See Federation of Unions 
of the Construction Industry and Kin- 
dred Activities, Transportation, and 
Other Activities 

fiscal policy (see also tax system), 110, 

fishing industry, 124-25 

flood, 129 

FMLN. See Farabundo Marti National 
Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo 
Marti de Liberacion Nacional: FMLN) 

Foreign Assistance Act (1974), 232 

foreign direct investment, 137-38 

foreign policy, xxviii, 182-93 

Forensic Unit, 255-56 

forest products industry, 126 

FPL. &e Popular Liberation Forces (Fuer- 
zas Populares de Liberacion: FPL) 

France: military supplies from, 223; 
recognition of FMLN-FDR, 41; rela- 
tions with, 193 

Francisco Sanchez Eastern Front, 243 

freedom of expression, 180-82 

Free Fatherland (Patria Libre), 172 

free-trade zone, 136 

free-zone area, 79 

FSLN. See Sandinista National Liberation 
Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion 
Nacional: FSLN) 

fuel sources, 131 

Garcia, Guillermo, 35, 36, 38, 203-4, 
220, 247 

General Association of Salvadoran 
University Students (Asociacion Gen- 
eral de Estudiantes Universitarios Sal- 
vadorefios: AGEUS), 177 

General Command (DRU), 240 

General Confederation of Unions (Con- 
federacion General de Sindicatos: 
CGS), 178 

geography, 49-53 

geology, 49-50 

geothermal power, 131, 133 

Germany, 223 

Germany, Nazi, 17 

Germany, West, 193, 227 

GN. See National Guard (Guardia Na- 
cional: GN) 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Golcher, Rinaldo, 230, 234 

Golfo de Fonseca, 13-14, 49, 51 

Gonzalez, Leonel, 240 

Gonzalez, Santiago, 12, 144 

government administration, 152-58 

government intervention: in coffee indus- 
try, 121-22; in economy, 107, 110; in 
fisheries, 124-25; in labor market, 111 

grain production, 118, 123-24 

Greater Republic of Central America (Re- 
publica Mayor de Centroamerica), 13 

gross domestic product (GDP), 101-2, 
104, 113 

Guajoyo power plant, 133 

Guatemala, xxiii, 5, 7, 12, 13, 20, 25, 30, 
32, 50, 95, 121, 143, 184, 187, 246; 
refugees from El Salvador in, 76; war 
with (1906), 200 

Guatemala Plan. See Central American 
Peace Agreement (1987) 

Guazapa Volcano, 244, 248 

Guerrero Cienfuegos, Francisco Jose, 
162, 169-70 

guerrilla activity (see also insurgency; mass 
organizations; "zones of control"), xx, 
xxi, xxii, xxv, 31, 33, 36, 39-40, 41, 
43, 89-90, 161, 202, 224-26, 237, 240, 
241-42; death squad activity against, 
234; of Communist Party (PCES), 239; 
sabotage and attacks by, 118, 122, 128, 
129, 130-31, 133, 224-25, 244; support 
for, 232 

Guevara, Ernesto ("Che"), 238 
Gulf of Panama, 186 
Gutierrez, Jaime Abdul, 34, 38, 203 
Gutierrez, Rafael, 12 

Handal, Jorge Shafik, xxv, 30, 239, 240, 

Havana, 40 

health care system (see also public health 

program), 71-72, 83, 116 
health centers, 71-72 
Helicopter Squadron, 216 
High Command (Alto Mando), xxv, 13, 

146-47, 156-57, 203, 206, 207, 220, 


Highway Patrol (Policfa de C aminos), 

Honduras, 7, 13, 50, 53, 187, 226; rela- 
tions with, 133, 191-92, 226; Salva- 
doran squatters in, 25-26, 54, 75-76, 

191; treaty with, 192, 198; war in 1969 
with (Soccer War), 24-26, 54, 76, 119, 
126, 191-92, 202 

hospitals, 71-72 

housing, 82-83 

human rights, 36, 42, 184, 198, 221-22; 
abuses of, xxviii, 223-24; Carter ad- 
ministration policy for, 42, 231-32; 
military training program for, 219; 
monitoring office for, 233; police train- 
ing for, 230-31; Reagan administration 
policy for, 43 

Human Rights Commission, 148 

Hunter Bomber Squadron, 216 

Hunter Squadron, 216 

"hunter" tactics, 247 

hydroelectric power, 131, 133 

Ibanez de Campo, Carlos, 200 

Iberian Peninsula, 6 

Ilopango, 258 

Ilopango Air Base, 216 

Ilopango International Airport, 130 

immigration, 13; to Canada, 193; to 

United States, 184-85, 193 
imports: dependence on, 112, 134-35; of 

food, 123; of lumber, 126; value of, 134 
import substitution policy, 136, 138 
impressment, 211 

Inazucar. See National Sugar Institute (In- 
stitute Nacional de Azucar: Inazucar) 
Incafe. See National Coffee Institute (In- 
stitute Nacional de Cafe: Incafe) 
income distribution, 3, 105 
independence (1821), 7, 9, 11 
Indian population, 3, 4, 16, 53, 66-67; 
abuse by Spaniards of, 6; in 1833 rural 
uprising, 11 
indigo industry, xix, 6, 10, 102, 120-21, 

industrial policy, 136 
industrial production, 101-2 
industrial sector, 79, 107, 118, 126-29 
inequality, social-economic, 49, 54, 59, 

82, 85 
inflation, 105, 111, 112 
infrastructure: development of, 10, 102, 

121; disruption to, 129-30 
insignia, military, 212-13 
Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido 

Revolucionario Institucional: PRI), 




insurgency, xxii, 49, 59, 233, 236-50 
intelligence organizations, 208-9 
Inter- American Treaty of Reciprocal As- 
sistance (the Rio Treaty), 223 
interest groups, 173-80 
interim government (1983), 244 
International Court of Justice, 192 
International Monetary Fund (IMF), 

105, 110, 112, 136 
Investigations Commission, 255 
investment, 101 

investment, foreign, 127, 137-138 
Investment and Savings Bank, 113 
IRA. See Regulatory Supply Institute (In- 
stitute Regulador de Abastecimientos: 

Iran-Contra affair, 184, 189 

Israel: military training by, 227; relations 

with, 193 
Italy, 223 

Iturbide, Agustm de, 7, 199 
Izalco, 16 

Izalco volcano, 50, 51 

Japan, 193 

Jesuit priests, xxvii-xxviii, 95 

John Paul II (pope), 95 

John XXIII (pope), 22, 92 

Joint General Staff (Estado Mayor Con- 
junto: EMC), xxiv, xxvi, xxvii, 204, 
208, 209, 221 

Joint Intelligence Operations Center 
(Centro de Operaciones Conjuntos de 
Inteligencia: COCI), 232 

Jovel, Francisco ("Roberto Roca"), xxv, 
238, 240 

Juayua, 16 

Judicial Protection Unit, 255 
judicial reform (see also Investigations 
Commission; Judicial Protection Unit; 
Judicial Training Program; Revisory 
Commission for Salvadoran Legisla- 
tion), xxii, 254-56 
judicial system, xxii 
judicial system, criminal, 250-54 
Judicial Training Program, 256 
junta governments (see also Revolutionary 
Governing Junta (Junta Revolucionario 
de Gobierno: JRG)), in 1948, 18, 201; 
in 1960, 21, 24; in 1980, xix, 35-36, 
203, 239; in 1979 and after, 34-35, 59, 
86-87, 89, 203, 229; reaction to, 39 

Kennedy, John F., 23 

Kissinger Commission. See National 

Bipartisan Commission on Central 

Kohl, Helmut, 193 

Korea, Democratic People's Republic of, 

labor force (see also employment; under- 
employment; unemployment), 108-9; in 
industry, 64; pressure groups of, 175- 
78; in rural areas, 62-64, 68-69, 78; 
strikes of, 128, 175, 177; urban, 78-79 

labor movement, 108 

labor unions, 40, 79, 109, 176-78 

ladino customs, 66-67 

Lago de Coatepeque, 51 

Lago de Giiija, 51 

Lago de Ilopango, 51 

La Libertad, 51, 67, 242 

la matanza (see also rural uprising (1932)), 
xx-xxi, 4, 16, 17, 60, 67, 197, 200-201 

land (see also encomienda system; repartimiento 
system): concentration of, 3; expropri- 
ation of, 36, 37, 86-87; scarcity of, 25, 
67, 74; value of, 6 

Land to the Tiller decree (1980), 42, 88, 

landowners (see also coffee industry): 
domination of economy by, 59-60; op- 
position to agrarian reform by, 86 

land ownership (see also land reform), 3, 
60, 62, 68; concentration of, 60; dis- 
tribution of, 62-63, 67-68, 74-76, 83, 
88, 101, 118-19; early pattern for, 6; 
oligarchy in, 10; under Phase III of 
agrarian reform, 88 

land reform, 4, 17, 26, 87; in 1976, 237; 
in 1980, xix, 101, 119-20 

languages, 53 

La Palma, 157, 165, 180, 245 

La Paz Department, xxvi, 242, 243 

Lara Velado, Roberto, 22 

Latin America, 7, 20, 28, 42 

Latin American Bishops' Conference, 

Second, 92 
La Union Department, 29, 219, 243 
La Union port, 125, 130, 216 
Law for the Defense and Guarantee of 

Public Order (1977), 32 
Legislative Assembly, 23, 27, 28, 32, 145, 

152-53, 155, 158, 159, 162-63 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Lemus, Jose Maria, 19-21 

Lenca tribe, 66 

Lenox, 138 

Leo XIII (pope), 22 

Liberation Party (Partido Liberation: 

PL), 172-73 
liberation theology, 37, 90, 92-93, 178, 


Line Police (Policia de Lmea), 230 

literacy, 3, 73 

literacy campaign, 217 

livestock, 124 

living standards, 70 

local government, 158-59 

Lopez Arellano, Oswaldo, 25 

Lopez Nuila, Carlos Reynaldo, 207, 220, 

221, 230 
Lopez Sibrian, Roberto, 254 
Los Nonualcos, 11 

machine parts industry, 127 
Madrid, 190 

Magana Borja, Alvaro, 44, 147-49, 203, 
235, 244 

Majano Ramos, Adolfo Arnoldo, 34, 35, 
36, 38, 39, 202, 203 

malnutrition, 69-71 

Managua, xxviii, 191, 240 

manufacturing. See industrial sector 

Mardoqueo Cruz Urban Guerrilla Com- 
mando, 244 

Marine Infantry Battalion (Batallon de 
Infantena de Marina: BIM), 216 

Maritain, Jacques, 22 

marketing companies, 117 

Marti, Agustm Farabundo, xx, 4, 14, 16, 

Martinez, Ana Guadalupe, 238 
Martinez, Maximiliano Hernandez, 15- 

18, 145, 200-201, 228 
Marx, Karl, 15 

Marxist-Leninist ideology, 22, 39, 146, 
147, 238 

mass communication, 180-82 

mass organizations, 31, 33, 36, 40, 84, 
88-89, 175, 234, 240; activity of, 239 

Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Bri- 
gade, 235 

Maya Empire, 4 

Mayorga, Roman, 34 

Medellm, 92 

media, 180-82 

Medical School of the National Univer- 
sity, 72 

Medrano, Jose Alberto "Chele," 30, 

228-29, 234 
Mejfa, Benjamin, 29 
Melendez, Jorge, 12-13 
Menendez, Andres Ignacio, 18 
Menendez, Francisco, 12, 144 
Menendez, Jose Asencio, 18 
mesones, 83 

mestizo population, 3, 53 

Mexico, 7, 40, 50, 186; recognition of 
FMLN-FDR, 41; refugees from El Sal- 
vador in, 76 

Mexico City, 41, 245 

Middle America Trench, 50 

migration (see also refugees; urbanization), 
63, 74-77; patterns of, 76-77; seasonal, 
74-75, 78-79 

Military Appeals Court, 253 

military assistance, 223; from Denmark 
and Germany, 223, 227; from United 
States, 37, 38, 42-43, 114-15, 182-83, 
216, 223-26, 235, 242, 247 

Military Assistance Program (MAP), 
United States, 223 

Military Aviation School, 216 

Military Aviation Service (Servicio de 
Aviation Militar: SAM), 200 

military branch (see also officer corps), 152, 
156-58, 168; as a class, 61-62; politi- 
cal role of, 23, 206, 208; rule of, 16-21, 
23-24; support of coffee growers by, 

Military Court of First Instance, 253 
Military Detachment Number Four 

(Destacamento Militar Numero Cu- 

atro: DM4), 213 
military equipment: air force, 216; army, 


military governments, 15, 16-17, 197, 

Military Hospital, 200, 211 

military justice, 220-23 

military personnel, enlisted, 64, 212 

military purchases, 223-24 

military service (see also conscription; im- 
pressment; Territorial Service), 209-12 

military training, 218-19, 223; by Argen- 
tina, 226; by Italy, 223; by United 
States, 224 

Military Youth (Juventud Militar), 18, 
29, 34, 201, 202, 203 



Millett, Richard L., 219 

mining industry, 129 

Ministry of Defense and Public Security, 
208, 209, 211, 217, 221 

Ministry of Education, 73, 74 

Ministry of Government and Develop- 
ment, 227 

Ministry of Interior, 131, 248 

Ministry of Justice, 252 

Ministry of Public Health and Social 
Services, 57, 72, 116 

missionary activity, 95 

Mitterrand, Francois, 193 

Mobile Training Team (MTT), United 
States, 224 

Modesto Ramirez Central Front, 242 

Molina, Arturo Armando, 28-29, 30 

monetary policy, 111, 112 

Montes, Ana Melinda ("Ana Maria"), 241 

Morales Ehrlich, Jose Antonio, 33, 35 

Morazan, Francisco, 9 

Morazan Department, xxvi, 41, 54, 63, 
68, 76, 77, 88, 90, 211, 213, 243, 244 

mortality rates, 56-58, 70-71 

mountain ranges, 50, 53 

municipalities, 158 

murders, xxvii-xxviii, 36, 37-38, 42 

Mussolini, Benito, 17 

Nahua people (see also Pipil tribe), 4 
Nahuizalco, 16 
Nandaime, 190 
Napoleon, 6 

National Agrarian Reform Congress, 27 

National Assembly, 12, 145 

National Association of Peasants (Asocia- 
cion Nacional de Campesinos: ANC), 

National Association of Private Enterprise 
(Asociacion Nacional de la Empresa 
Privada: ANEP), 61, 173 

National Association of Salvadoran Edu- 
cators (Asociacion Nacional de Educa- 
dores Salvadorenos: ANDES), 237 

National Association of Salvadoran Indi- 
ans (Asociacion Nacional Indfgena Sal- 
vadorena: ANIS), 67 

National Bipartisan Commission on Cen- 
tral America, 226 

National Coffee Institute (Instituto Na- 
cional de Cafe: Incafe), 107, 110, 114, 
117, 122 

National Commission to Assist the Dis- 
placed Persons of El Salvador (Comi- 
sion Nacional de Asistencia a los 
Desplazadas de El Salvador: Conades), 

National Conciliation Party (Partido de 
Conciliacion Nacional: PCN), 21, 22- 
24, 25, 27, 28, 32-33, 44, 146-49, 
162-63, 166, 169-70 

National Confederation of Workers (Con- 
federation Nacional de Trabajadores: 
CNT), 178 

National Coordinator, 36 

National Democratic Union (Union 
Democratica Nacional: UDN), 28, 36 

National Directorate of Intelligence 
(Direction Nacional de Inteligencia: 
DNI), 209 

National Electric Company, 115 

National Guard (Guardia Nacional: GN), 
11, 16, 28, 30, 60, 63, 89, 201, 208, 
227-30, 232, 234, 235, 252; Special In- 
vestigations Section, 231 

National Industrial Development Bank 
(Banco Nacional de Fomento Indus- 
trial: Banfi), 112 

nationalism, 169, 207 

Nationalist Democratic Organization 
(Organization Democratica Nacion- 
alista: Orden), 30, 34, 37, 89, 228-29, 

Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza 
Republicana Nacionalista: Arena), 
xxiii, 44, 143, 146-49, 156, 162-63, 
166, 174, 203, 204, 207; role of, 167- 

nationalization, 36, 112, 130 
National Police (Policia Nacional: PN), 

11, 18, 201, 208, 227, 229, 230, 232, 


National Resistance (Resistencia Na- 
cional: RN), 244 

National Revolutionary Movement 
(Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario: 
MNR), 28, 36, 40, 171-72 

national security, 202, 206, 259 

National Sugar Institute (Instituto Na- 
cional de Azucar; Inazucar), 110, 114, 

National Telecommunications Adminis- 
tration (Administration Nacional de 
Telecomunicaciones: Antel), 115, 117, 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

National Union of Salvadoran Workers 
(Union Nacional de Trabaj adores Sal- 
vadorenos: UNTS), 177-78 

National Union of Workers and Peasants 
(Union Nacional de Obreros y Cam- 
pesinos: UNOC), 176-78 

National Unity Front, 26 

National University (see also University of 
El Salvador (National University)), 84 

National Water and Sewerage Adminis- 
tration (Administration Nacional de 
Acueductos y Alcantarillados: AND A), 
115, 117 

naval base, 216 

Naval Commandos force, 217 

naval school, 216 

navy. See Salvadoran Navy 

New Spain (Mexico), 4 

Nicaragua, xxi, xxviii, 7, 13, 15, 33, 179, 
181, 190, 242; refugees from El Sal- 
vador in, 76; revolution in 1979, 31, 
39; support for FMLN by, 232; sup- 
port for guerrillas by, 4; training for 
PCES, 239 

Nightwatchmen and Bank Guards Corps 
(Cuerpo de Vigilantes Nocturnos y 
Bancarios), 230 

Noncommissioned Officers School (Es- 
cuela de Suboficiales), 200, 219 

Noriega Moreno, Manuel Antonio, 183 

North American Plate, 50 

OAS. See Organization of American 

States (OAS) 
Ochoa Perez, Sigifredo, 169, 203, 207, 

221, 248 

officer corps (see also tanda; tandona), 4, 18, 
29, 33, 34, 38-39, 61-62, 168, 211-12, 

oil price shocks, xx, 131 

oligarchy, 10, 13, 60, 61, 199-200 

Operation Weil-Being (Operation Bien- 
estar), 248 

Orden. See Nationalist Democratic Or- 
ganization (Organization Democratica 
Nacionalista: Orden) 

Organisation for Economic Co-operation 
and Development (OECD), 133 

Organization of American States (OAS), 

Ortega Saavedra, Daniel, xxviii, 189 
Osorio, Oscar, 18-19, 145 

pacification program, 248-49 

Pacific lowlands, 50, 51, 53 

Pacific Ocean, 51 

Pacific Ocean floor, 50 

Pact of Amapala (1895), 13, 148, 149 

PAISA. See Salvadoran Authentic Institu- 
tional Party (Partido Autentico Institu- 
cional Salvadoreno: PAISA) 

Panama, 183, 186 

Panama City, 188 

Pan American Highway, 130 

PAR. See Renovating Action Party (Par- 
tido Action Renovadora: PAR) 

paramilitary organizations, 37, 202, 
228-29, 230, 234, 248 

Party of the Salvadoran Revolution (Par- 
tido de la Revolution Salvadorena: 
PRS), 243 

PCES. See Communist Party of El Sal- 
vador (Partido Comunista de El Sal- 
vador: PCES) 

PCN. See National Conciliation Party 
(Partido de Conciliation Nacional: 

PDC. See Christian Democratic Party 
(Partido Democrata Cristiano: PDC) 

Peace Commission, 148, 244 

Penal Code, 253; of 1904, 256; of 1980, 

peninsulares, 6 

penitentiaries, 258 

People's Revolutionary Army (Ejercito 
Revolucionario del Pueblo: ERP), 30, 
33, 39, 177, 237-38, 240, 241, 243 

Permanent Council of the Armed Forces 
(Consejo Permanente de las Fuerzas 
Armadas: Copefa), 203 

Peru, 187 

petroleum products industry, 127 
PH. See Treasury Police (Policia de Ha- 
cienda: PH) 
pharmaceutical industry, 79, 127 
Pickering, Thomas, 235 
Pipil language, 67 
Pipil tribe, 4-5, 66 
Pius XII Institute, 92 
plantations. See fincas 
Platanar, 200 

PN. See National Police (Policia Nacional: 

Police Academy, 231 
police force, 206, 207, 227 
Political Commission, 148 



political parties, 163 
political system: military control of, 197, 

Ponce Torres, Rene Emilio, xxiv, xxvii, 

207, 220, 250, 259 
Popular Army of Liberation (Ejercito 

Popular de Liberacion: EPL), 243-44 
Popular Credit Bank, 113 
Popular Democratic Unity (Unidad 

Popular Democratica: UPD), 175-76 
Popular Forum (Foro Popular), 33 
Popular Liberation Forces (Fuerzas 

Populares de Liberacion: FPL), 237, 


Popular Liberation Movement (Movi- 
miento de Liberacion Popular: MLP), 

popular organizations. See mass organi- 

Popular Orientation Party (Partido de 
Orientation Popular: POP), 146, 173 

Popular Social Christian Movement 
(Movimiento Popular Social Cristiano: 
MPSC), 36, 40, 171-72 

population, 25, 49, 51; density of, 49, 54; 
growth and age distribution of, 56-58; 
homogeneity of, 53-54; urban and 
rural ratios for, 56, 62 

Portugal, 193 

postal service, 131 

poverty, 3, 69-70, 74, 77, 82 

PPS. See Salvadoran Popular Party (Par- 
tido Popular Salvadoreno: PPS) 

pressure groups, See interest groups 

PRI. See Institutional Revolutionary Party 
(Partido Revolucionario Institucional: 

price controls, 107, 111 

price levels, 106 

prison system, 258-59 

private enterprise, 173-74 

prostitution, 79 

protectionism, 136 

Protestantism, 95-96 

PRS. See Party of the Salvadoran Revo- 
lution (Partido de la Revolution Sal- 
vadorena: PRS) 

PRTC. See Revolutionary Party of 
Central American Workers (Partido 
Revolucionario de Trabajdores Cen- 
troamericanos: PRTC) 

PRUD. See Revolutionary Party of Dem- 
ocratic Unification (Partido Revolu- 

cionario de Unification Democratica: 

public health program, 217 
Public Law 480, 183 
Public Safety Program, 231 
Public Security Forces Joint Staff, 208 
Puerto Castilla, 226 

quantitative restrictions, 110 

Quince de Septiembre power plant, 133 

Quinonez Molina, Alfonso, 12-13, 14 

Radio Farabundo Marti, 182 

radio stations, 182 

Radio Venceremos, 177, 182 

Rafael Arce Zablah Brigade (Brigada 
Rafael Arce Zablah: BRAZ), 243 

railroad, 130 

rainy season (invierno), 53 

rank, military, 212-13 

Reagan (Ronald) administration, 41, 43, 
182, 184-85, 189, 224-26, 232, 235 

Red Aid International (Socorro Rojo In- 
ternacional: SRI), 15 

refugees, 76-77, 191 

Regalado, Tomas, 12, 14 

Regalado Duenas, Ernesto, 28 

Regional Federation of Salvadoran Work- 
ers, 15 

Regional Military Training Center 

(RMTC), 226 
Regulatory Supply Institute (Instituto 

Regulador de Abastecimientos: IRA), 

111, 117 

religion (see also Protestantism; Roman 
Catholic Church), 7, 91-96 

Renovating Action Party (Partido Action 
Renovadora: PAR), 18, 24, 28 

repartimiento system, 6 

repression {see also death squads; la 
matanza), 14, 17-20, 31-34 

Republic of Central America, 13, 150 

reservoir, 51 

revenues, 113 

Revisory Commission for Salvadoran 

Legislation, 254-55 
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Popular 

Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas Revolu- 

cionarias de Liberaci6n Popular: 

FARLP), 244 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

Revolutionary Coordinator of the Masses 
(Coordinadora Revolucionaria de las 
Masas: CRM), 36, 40, 88-89, 239 

Revolutionary Council (junta), 18 

Revolutionary Democratic Front (Frente 
Democratico Revolucionario: FDR), 
xx, xxiv, 40-41, 44-45, 84, 146, 157, 
162, 164, 165, 170-72, 190, 191, 192, 
206, 238, 239 

Revolutionary Governing Junta (Junta 
Revolucionaria de Gobierno: JRG), 

Revolutionary Party of Central American 
Workers (Partido Revolucionario de 
Trabajadores Centroamericanos: 
PRTC), 238, 240, 242, 244, 253 

Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unifi- 
cation (Partido Revolucionario de 
Unification Democratica: PRUD), 18- 
20, 201 

Revolutionary Popular Bloc (Bloque 
Popular Revolucionario: BPR), 31, 38, 
237, 239 

revolutionary theory, 238 

Revolution of 1948, 18, 19, 22, 102, 145, 
201, 219, 228 

Rey Prendes, Julio Adolfo, 166-67 

rice, 124 

Rio Lempa, 51, 75, 90, 130 

Rio Lempa Executive Hydroelectric 
Commission (Comision Ejecutiva 
Hidroelectrica del Rio Lempa: CEL), 
115, 117 

Rio Motagua, 50 

Rio Treaty, 223 

Rivera, Julio Adalberto, 21, 22-23, 24, 
30, 145 

Rivera y Damas, Arturo (archbishop), 94, 

rivers, 51 

road system, 130, 217 
Rodriguez, Abraham, 22, 167 
Rodriguez Porth, Jose Antonio, 28 
Roman Catholic Church, 77, 178-80, 
190, 206 

Roman Catholic groups {see also Christian 
Base Communities (Comunidades 
Eclesiasticas de Base: CEBs)), 31 

Roman Catholicism (see also liberation 
theology; "social Christianity"), 7, 9, 
28, 237, 91-96 

Romero, Napoleon (Miguel Castellanos), 

Romero Bosque, Pio, 14 

Romero Mena, Carlos Humberto, 33, 

34, 197, 203, 224, 234 
Romero y Galdamez, Oscar Arnulfo 

(archbishop), 37-38, 94, 178-79, 207, 

235, 252 
Rosa Chavez, Gregorio, 180 
Ruffino Barrios, Justo, 12 
rural life, 67-74 
rural population, 62-64, 73-74 
rural uprising (1833), xx, 3, 11 
rural uprising (1932), xx, 16, 60 

sabotage (see also guerrilla groups), 118, 

128, 233-34 
Salvadoran Air Force, 26, 29, 202, 216, 

218, 223 

Salvadoran Army, 26, 197, 224, 242; con- 
trol by dictator of, 201; evolution of, 
199; reorganization of, 204; size of, 213 

Salvadoran Authentic Institutional Party 
(Partido Autentico Institucional Sal- 
vadoreno: PAISA), 149, 173 

Salvadoran Chamber of Commerce and 
Industry (Camara de Comercio e In- 
dustria de El Salvador), 173 

Salvadoran Coffee Company, 113 

Salvadoran Coffee Growers Association 
(Asociacion Cafetalera de El Salvador: 
ACES), 122, 173 

Salvadoran Communal Union (Union 
Comunal Salvadorena: UCS), 89, 176, 

Salvadoran Cotton Cooperative, 113 
Salvadoran Demographic Association, 

Salvadoran Institute for Agrarian Reform 
(Instituto Salvadoreno de Transforma- 
tion Agraria: ISTA), 110 

Salvadoran Institute of Industrial De- 
velopment (Instituto Salvadoreno de 
Fomento Industrial: Insafi), 112 

Salvadoran Navy, 216-17 

Salvadoran Popular Party (Partido Popu- 
lar Salvadoreno: PPS), 24, 28, 146 

Salvadoran Social Security Institute (In- 
stituto Salvadoreno del Seguro Social: 
ISSS), 72, 110 

Salvador Railroads, 130 

Sanchez Hernandez, Fidel, 24, 25, 28, 229 

Sancho Castafieda, Eduardo ("Ferman 
Cienfuegos"), 238, 240 



Sandinista National Liberation Front 
(Frente Sandinista de Liberation Na- 
tional: FSLN), 31, 33, 39, 42, 190-91, 
241; support for FMLN guerrillas by, 
xxi, xx vi 

Sandino, Augusto Cesar, 15 

sanitation facilities, 70 

San Jose, xxviii 

San Miguel city, 55, 56, 78, 130, 216, 231 
San Miguel Department, xxvi, 29, 31, 

207, 211, 243 
San Miguel volcano, 50 
San Salvador, xxvi, 6, 11, 20, 23, 27, 29, 

33, 36, 38, 50, 53, 54-55, 56, 61, 67, 

77, 83, 130, 200, 259; growth of, 77-78 
San Salvador Department, 29, 55, 89, 242 
Santa Ana city, 55-56, 66, 77-78, 130, 

231, 258 

Santa Ana Department, xxvi, 242, 258 

Santa Ana volcano, 51 

Santa Tecla, 16 

Santiago Nonualco, 11 

San Vicente, 11, 258 

San Vicente Department, 29, 89, 90, 243, 

248, 259 
Sapoa, 190 
savings, 113 

School of the Americas (Fort Benning, 
Georgia), 219, 224 

security forces, internal (see also Civil 
Defense (Defensa Civil: DC); National 
Guard; National Police; Treasury 
Police), 11, 37, 227-31, 234; equip- 
ment and training for, 231 

service industries, 107-8 

Sesori, 245 

Seventh-Day Adventists, 95 

Sheraton case, 255 

Sierra Madre mountain range, 50 

Soccer War. See Honduras 

social Christianity, 92, 93 

Social Democratic Party (Partido Social 
Democrata: PSD), 143, 172 

Social Improvement (Mejoramiento So- 
cial), 17 

social programs, 72 

social security, 72, 83, 116 

social structure (see also inequality, social- 
economic; officer corps; oligarchy), 
59-67; composition and location of 
middle class, 64, 66, 78; elite segment 
of, 59-62; lower sector of, 62-64 

Somoza Debayle, Anastasio, 33 

Sonsonate, 4, 16, 66, 67, 75, 130 
Sonsonate Department, 29, 242 
Sonzacate, 16 
sorghum, 124 
South America, 7 

Soviet Union, 177; support for FMLN 
guerrillas by, 4, 232; training for 
PCES, 239 

Spain: colonial system of, 3, 6-7; con- 
quest in El Salvador by, 5-6 

Spanish Empire, 6 

Spanish language, 53 

Special Antiterrorist Command (Co- 
mando Especial Anti-Terrorista: 
CEAT), 232 

Special Investigations Section (Servicio de 
Investigaciones Especiales: SIE), 231 

Special Investigative Unit, 255-56 

Specialists' School, 218 

spending, government (see also defense 
budget), 114-16; military, 115, 116; so- 
cial security and welfare, 116-17 

SRI. See Red Aid International (Socorro 
Rojo Internacional: SRI) 

Staben Perla, Roberto Mauricio, 222-23 

stabilization program. See economic 
stabilization program 

state of siege: in 1980, 36-37; in 1986, 251 

state-owned enterprises, 110, 115, 117-18 

strikes, 40, 128 

student groups, 40 

sugar industry, 60, 63, 79, 102, 104, 107, 

110, 118, 122 
Supreme Court, 258 
Supreme Court of Justice, 152, 155 

Tacuba, 16 

Taiwan, 193 

tanda, 62, 219-20, 222 

tandona (big class), xxvii, 207, 220, 222 

tariffs, 136 

tax system (see also export duties; reve- 
nues), 113-14 

Tegucigalpa, 189 

telecommunications, 131 

television stations, 182 

terms of trade, 102, 134-35 

Territorial Service, 210 

terrorism (see also death squads; violence), 
xxv, 30, 33, 36, 202, 234, 237, 242; of 
Communist party (PCES), 239; against 
Jesuit community, 234 


El Salvador: A Country Study 

textile companies, 79 

Thatcher, Margaret, 193 

thermal power plants, 133 

Torola-Jocoaitique line, 244 

trade (see also export performance; ex- 
ports; imports; terms of trade): with 
other Central American countries, 134 

trade policy (see also exchange rate policy; 
export promotion; import substitution 
policy; protectionism; tariffs), 135-36; 
liberalization, 110 

trade winds, 53 

Traffic police (Policia de Transito), 230 

transportation, 130-31 

transport equipment industry, 127 

Transport Squadron, 216 

Treasury Police (Policia de Hacienda: 

PH), 208, 228, 229-30, 232, 234 
tugurios, 82 

Tutela Legal (Legal Aid), 233, 236 
28th of February Popular Leagues (Ligas 

Populares 28 de Febrero: LP- 2 8), 33, 


UDN. See National Democratic Union 
(Union Democratica Nacional: UDN) 
underemployment, 49, 63, 67-69 
unemployment, 49, 60, 63-64, 67-69, 82; 
rural, 64 

Ungo Revelo, Guillermo Manuel, xxiv, 
xxv, 28, 29, 34, 40, 143, 171-72, 182, 
192, 239, 245 

Unified Revolutionary Directorate 
(Direction Revolucionaria Unificada: 
DRU) {see also Farabundo Marti Na- 
tional Liberation Front (Frente Fara- 
bundo Marti de Liberation Nacional: 
FMLN)), 40-41, 241, 240 

uniforms, military, 212-13 

Union of Farm Workers (Union de 
Trabaj adores del Campo: UTC), 237 

United Democratic Independent Front, 

United National Opposition (Union Na- 
cional Opositora: UNO), 28, 29, 32 

United Nations, xxviii-xxix 

United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees, 76, 191 

United Nations Latin American Center 
for Demography (Centro Latino- 
americano de Demograffa: Celade), 

United Popular Action Front (Frente de 
Action Popular Unidad: FAPU), 239 

United Provinces of Central America 
(1823), 7, 9, 11, 144, 199 

United States: aid renounced by Romero 
government, 41; assistance for judicial 
reform, 254; backing for armed forces 
by, 4; Central Intelligence Agency, 162; 
Congress, xxvii; Congress. Senate For- 
eign Relations Committee, 148; Con- 
gress. Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence, 236; Department of State, 
xxv, 43, 233-34, 251, 254; economic as- 
sistance from, 182-83, 188; Federal Bu- 
reau of Investigation, 255; immigration 
of Salvadorans, 109; Law Enforcement 
Counterterrorism Assistance Program, 
232; military assistance from, 30, 37, 38, 

182- 83, 216, 224-26, 242, 247; Military 
Assistance Program (MAP), 223; mili- 
tary training by, 30, 224-26; pacifica- 
tion programs design and funding, 
248-49; policy and influence (1979-81), 
42; pressure from, xxvii, 146, 147, 165, 

183- 84, 197; refugees from El Salvador 
in, 76; security assistance by, xxi, 
231-32; trade with, 134 

United States Agency for International 
Development (AID), 114, 116, 120, 
131, 183, 133, 254; Public Safety Pro- 
gram of, 231 
United States Marine Mammal Protec- 
tion Act, 126 
United States Marines, 253-54 
United States of Central America, 13 
United to Rebuild (Unidos para Recon- 

struir), 250 
United to Work (Unidos para Trabaj ar), 

universities, 84-85 

University of El Salvador (National 

University), 14, 237, 238 
UNO. See United National Opposition 

(Union Nacional Opositora: UNO) 
UPD. See Popular Democratic Unity 

(Unidad Popular Democratica: UPD) 
upper class. See social structure 
urbanization, 77-79 
urban life, 77-85 
Uruguay, 187 

US advisers murders, 42, 235 
USC. See Salvadoran Communal Union 
(Union Comunal Salvadorena: USC) 



Usulutan, 130 

Usulutan Department, xxvi, 29, 31, 90, 

243, 248 
utility industry, 110, 115 

Valle, Andres, 12 

Vatican, 180 

Vatican Council II, 92 

Venezuela, 22, 36, 186 

Vides Casanova, Carlos Eugenio, 157, 

204-5, 207, 221, 245, 247 
vigilantism, 252 

Villalobos Hueso, Joaquin ("Rene 

Cruz"), 237-38, 240, 241, 259 
violence, 33, 37, 45, 94, 233 
volcanos, 50, 51 

wages, 79, 111 

Wars of Elimination Anti-Communist 
Liberation Armed Forces (Fuerzas 
Armadas de Liberacion Anti-comunista 

deGuerrasde Elimination: FALANGE), 


water pollution, 70 

weapons made in United States, 240-41 

welfare, 116 

White, Alastair, 16 

White, Robert E., 236 

White Hand (Mano Blanca), 234 

White Warriors Union (Union de Guer- 
reros Blancos: UGB), 32, 234 

women: in guerrilla activity, 91 ; in labor 
force, 78-79, 91; military service of, 

World Federation of Trade Unions, 177 
Wright, James, 184 

Zacatecoluca, xxv, 130 

Zakh'var, Rafael, 12, 144 

Zamora, Mario, 36, 40 

Zamora Rivas, Ruben, xxvi, 36, 171-72, 

182, 245 
Zepeda, Juan Orlando, 208-9 
"zones of control," 90 


Published Country Studies 

(Area Handbook Series) 






















A a. 1 • 















Indian Ocean 



































Korea, North 




Korea, South 






Commonwealth Caribbean, 



Islands of the 






Costa Rica 




Cote d'lvoire (Ivory Coast) 
















Dominican Republic/Haiti 












El Salvador 












Germany, East 




Germany, Fed. Rep. of 









Persian Gulf 


















Saudi Arabia 






Sierra Leone 









South Africa 



Soviet Union 






Sri Lanka 













550-89 Tunisia 

550-80 Turkey 

550-74 Uganda 

550-97 Uruguay 

550-71 Venezuela 

550-32 Vietnam 

550-183 Yemens, The 

550-99 Yugoslavia 

550-67 Zaire 

550-75 Zambia 

550-171 Zimbabwe 


PIN: 006962-000